11 Commando (1979-80) Etali, Okatope, Nkurunkuru and Grootfontein
Dennis was called up to 11 Commando (Kimberley) in Janaury 1978. He trained on Vickers machine guns. He walked patrols near Etali Base, and around Okatope, where he was involved in a contact. Later he serves at Nkurunkuru Island near Rundu and later at Grootfontein. After several camps he joined Permanent Force to do catering at Natal Command.
BEFORE REPORTING FOR NATIONAL SERVICE
I had elder friends who had been in the army, so obviously you listen to their stories which are a bit scary about the corporals chasing you about. One particular friend always said that if you had to run, make sure that you didn't run in the front or at the back. Just be obscure. In the middle. I followed that advice. It was pretty handy actually. It was a bit scary about what to expect. The unknown. None of those who told me about the army had ever been in action or seen action.
I didn't actually have to go to army because I have a British background. I didn't really have to go. My older brother didn't go, so I didn't have to go. I felt that I had taken from the country, so must give back to the country. That's what my feeling was. I registered when I was 15 or 16 at school. I was born in South Africa, but I could have got a British passport because my father was British and my mother was Rhodesian, and all my family are British, so I could have got a passport and just buggered off, or just told them that I was British and didn't have to do it. All my friends went to the army, so I though it was the thing to do. I'm still pleased that I went, although two years against two years for someone who didn't go to the army was a big loss. You could maybe have made different decisions, which could have changed your whole life completely. I don't know. Its difficult to say. I'm pleased that I went.
My intake was January 1978. We went up by train from Port Elizabeth to Kimberley. I was with all my school mates as well, so we were supportive to each other. Getting to Kimberley, we had the famous roofie ride from the station to the base, getting all of our kit and having to carry our trammels, our mattresses and everything all together with our balsak to the bungalows. That was pretty hairy as well.
There's always competition between all the different units, and they tried to keep up the high standards and discipline. The discipline was pretty harsh - I thought anyway.
I did my basic training. A sergeant major that stood out was Sargeant Major Shaeffer who was an English guy, and he was very fair. He was quite a good guy. Sergeant Major Du Plessis who could look right through you with his big blue eyes - a very scary guy. Later on he became an officer. Tilley Smit - a lot of people will recognise that name, the RSM - the shortest sergeant major I've ever seen, but he had a big voice on him. He was a very nice guy. Very fair! He earned a lot of respect from the troops. He was great.
We did a lot of route marches in basics. A lot of marches to the skietbaan (shooting range). We had a lot of opvoks. I think that most people know that going to the skietbaan, and after the PFs left, the national servicemen corporals and lieutenants would carry on after training and give you quite a lot of PT. Not me, but a few guys who needed some extra lessons, had to carry ammo the kass between the one hundred and the two hundred and the three hundred and even up to the thousand metre - I've seen guys running with ammo kasses. Full ones, of course. Also doing baba-dra and skaap-dra and rolling in between the different fire positions; the hundred and the two hundred metre positions. That was one of the favourites.
The other thing that stands out for me is getting our food where you would have your Dixie - everything; your porridge, your boiled egg or your scrambled egg and your cornflakes and whatever all mixed up into the same Dixie. To try and keep the other one clean you would put it all together. There were a few times when we used them over a fire, and we got back to base, late say on a Sunday night, and we were expected to have clean dixies for inspection the next morning. One particular period where we didn't do it, and everybody in my platoon hadn't cleaned their dixies for inspection the next morning, and at the end of training that day, at half past four we had to tree aan next to the Bedfords which were full of poles , and we were taken to the Orange Free State Border, which was seven kilometres away, and we had to run back with the poles, three or four guys to a pole. In between there was other PT as well; push ups and sit ups with the pole. It took two and a half ours to get back. That's one of the things that stands out.
A lot of the guys were at school with me, and before we went for haircuts you could recognise them, and afterwards you couldn't recognise them until you got back to the bungalow because their heads were shaved. There were a few guys you were buddies with, but after basics they chose their different sections that they wanted to go into. One guy, Wayne - he was a pretty good pal, but he went to the horse school. One friend - both of us used to enjoy the 2,4. He won quite often and I beat him occasionally, but in the last 2,4 of basics I managed to beat him. I got tired like everybody else, but I felt that I was pretty fit to take any punishment. I could last for an hour or a two hour opvok - I wouldn't come off too badly because I was fit before I got to the army.
Another chap, Rhodes Featherstone was with me in basics. He was actually called op for the Air Force, but one day we found him chasing down the road, and he came running past me with a pole on his back. He had been relocated from the Air Force to 11 Commando because they didn't have enough troops there. He was a good friend from school. I met him when we were in junior school although he wasn't in the same school as me.
After basics I did a Vickers machine gun course, which was a nightmare with the 95 pound weight. Carrying this thing around wasn't funny. Corporal Sean Bourne - when all of the guys on the specialist phase, like the mortars and the 106s would all be relaxing, we always seemed to be running. That was really tough. The Vickers machine gun that we started training on, the belts were made from material, and the belts or the actually machine guns themselves actually had 1915 stamped on the side. They had 250 rounds per belt, and when you've shot out all your belts, you have to reload them yourself. A lot of them weren't in good condition considering the age, so you would get a lot of storings - stoppages, and 10 to 1 there was always a corporal or somebody behind you who would hit you on your steel helmet with a stick if you weren't fast enough getting your stoppage sorted out.
I didn't choose to do the Vckers course. It was chosen for me. After basics, the treed the whole company aan, and said `Anyone who wants to be drivers, stand that soide. Anyone who wants to be storemen, stand over there, mortars, stand over there.' All the guys who wanted to do mortars, would then have to do drivers, and anyone who wanted to be drivers would have to do mortars. It was totally confused. The other thing they used to do, was to say; `We only need 10 guys to become storemen', and there was 50 guys standing there. `Run to the end of the parade ground. The first 10 who come back will be storemen.' The guys would run their arses off because they wanted to be storemen, and they would then take the last 10. Nobody ever wound up in what they wanted. I took my friend's advice, which didn't work out very well this time. I actually got the worst of the worst which was the Vickers machine gun. I didn't volunteer for anything, and there were 15 of us left over who hadn't volunteered for anything. `All of you guys, you're going to do Vickers.' Oh, no! With the worst bloody corporal in the whole company, as well!
One day we were all in the hall, and they called all of the guys who had a Standard 8 to come out of the hall, and all of us went out. They said; `Go and pack your bags. You are all going to Jan Kemp Dorp. They need extra troops there.' Within an hour we were all on a truck on our way to Jan Kemp Dorp, and that's where I did my bush phase, with Corporal Nagel. I can't remember my Loot's name now. Corporal Nagel was Philippi in the Cape. He used to stutter. Our RSM was Sargeant Major Ickermann, and his name is pretty well known in the army from those days. We just suffered and suffered and suffered. We went to Smitsdrift and just had a really hard time there.
At Jan Kemp Dorp I remember that we used to have to stand to attention and they would throw thunder flashes in between us, and you would be trying to get a drink, and they would throw thunder flashes or tear gas at us. Two unpleasantries. The cold showers … Standing guard 3 hours on and 3 hours off, specially when you had a full day's training ahead of you, or when you had just been through a full day of training, and then they would come and pick you up before you would stand guard, so you would only get 2 or 3 hours sleep maximum a night. That was a bit tough.
It was so cold at night that the railway lines used make a tremendous noise, and I've never heard that anywhere else. It was a real loud cracking noise. They guys used to stand quite far apart, so you would be on your own. A few storied that I heard from guys who were there before me, of standing guard and stones would come flying at them from inside the base, but there shouldn't have been anybody inside the base, because it was the ammunition depot. They reckoned that there were a few ghosts around there. Who knows? Those were some of the hairy stories. I think we were more cold than anything else, too cold to worry about anything else.
So we finished that, and we did evaluation in front of the Sergeant Major of the army at that time. Then we flew off up to Grootfontein, and Oshivello where we carried with our training, and we would be evaluated again before you could go on up to the border. I did a course there. I did a browning 7.62 course, which I think was the only time that I actually volunteered for anything. It turned out to be a nightmare. Every time you shot about half a belt you had to run and go and put out the fire that it caused in the bushes. It between the bushes where the mortars and things that hadn't gone off. You were busy putting these things out …
When we were in Oshivello, I think it was the 23rd of August when Katima Mulilo base was attacked and a missile landed on one of the troops bungalows and killed 9 of them. That was in August 1978. We actually heard that on the radio, so we were shitting ourselves before we even got up to the border.
I didn't carry on with Vickers. I went from Kimberley where I had done the Vickers Course to Jan Kemp Dorp, so I didn't carry on with Vickers after that. A Vickers section did go up to the border, but not with me.
ETALE BASE, SECTOR 10
After passing our evaluation, we went up to Etale. There were 2 Etalis. The old Etali, which was about 16 or 17 kilometers away from the border. It was quite a nice base, I remember. When we left Grootfontein (Oshivello?), we drove up in langbakke Samils, and when we got to Etali, we were the first platoon to go out on patrol, so we didn't actually go into the base at all until about three weeks later. We had to hand our kit in outside the Etali base. As we arrived there, our Company had to take over from the Company that was there already. Those guys got onto the same trucks that we had come in, and they left. Not all of the platoons went out on patrol straight away, but we were one of the first ones to go out on patrol to relieve the guys who were coming off from the border. We wound up handing all of our balsaks in from outside, and getting all our ratpacks, camouflage - `black is beautiful' camouflage, and we would up going on patrol straight off. The same day that we were in Oshivello, we were actually on patrol. This was the Loot that we had trained with in Oshivello and basics.
They went off with us and it was all very paraat, debussing off the buffel in the bush and doing the rondom verdeedging as you were trained, and then walking a three week patrol in the same clothes, same rations. We got there in August, and by the time we left in December everybody including the loot and the corporal were pretty naafi. We really hadn't seen any terrorists. The occasional boot print ...
We walked patrol in a very dry area around Etali. It was summer, so we had some times when it was really raining hard, and the shonas would be full of water. We could actually swim. There was a time when we were playing rounders on the yati itself, with our shirts hanging off bushes. After playing I picked up my shirt and put it on, and I had to rip it off straight away because a little scorpion had got in my shirt, and it stung me under my left armpit. It was sore, but I'm glad that it wasn't poisonous. I'm still here today. I told the Loot and the medic, but there wasn't any swelling. It wasn't a big thing. I'd been brought up in a farming area as a kid, so I've been bitten and scratched many times before, so it wasn't a big thing for me.
We did a lot of OP posts along the yati. I was section 1 of platoon 3; section 3 of platoon 3 which was about 2 km away - they spotted a terrorist who hadn't actually seen them. They estimated that there were over a hundred terrorists, but with them being only a section, they did a fire and movement against these guys, with mortars coming from our area to support them, and still chased them away. Corporal Swanepoel knows that he shot someone; he stood up and shot someone before they did the fire and movement, and the guy actually fell, but his buddies dragged him away. We heard all of this over the radio; them calling for support weapons, and help. We could hear the mortars going off - it was right close to us. We ran to go and help them, but by the time we got there, the contact was over. The sweep afterwards recovered plenty of land mines and AK47 magazines and lots of food, particularly Scandinavian tinned fish.
A guy called Minnie from Port Elizabeth was shooting, and while he was shooting, the grass in front of him the grass was starting to burn. He was putting it out, and while he was doing that a bullet must have ricocheted off something, and shot through shirt, scraped his left had side of his chest where his heart is, and got lodged between his waterbottle and his fire bucket on his webbing. He was a very lucky chap! He found the damaged round, and I'm sure he still has it today. That would have been the round that would have killed him if it had gone any deeper.
After Etali, I went on leave down to Port Elizabeth. It turned out to be about a month's pass. It was a nice one. Then we went back to Kimberley, got our kit, and a few days later we found ourselves at Okatopi, which was also the old Okatopi - both Etali and Okatopi were destroyed and rebuilt into bigger lusher bases. When I was in Etali the first time we were standing guard on the new Etali base while it was being built. We were guarding all the graders and tractors and that sort of thing. Okatopi was quite a nice base. In Okatopi we did a lot of patrols around the base. We also went up to Ondangwa and did some patrols up there, protecting the air base.
Not much action until Friday 13th April 1979 when we were on our last patrol. We weren't even a full platoon, there were only 14 of us. We debussed. The vehicles left, and we were supposed to start walking patrol straight away.
Section Leader Cpl. Rix had said that he didn't want to go on this patrol, because he felt we was going to miss the lang-bakke (trucks) they were going to leave without him. He ended up actually going on the patrol, and then getting killed. It was something strange. For a few days before the patrol he was concerned; `Ek wil nie gaan nie. Hulle sal sonder my ry.' (`I don't want to go. They'll set off without me.')
The platoon sergeant was not interested in walking any further that day, so we bedded down where we were. We didn't do any protective movement. We stayed where we were. We found a big tree and we slept in a half moon around the tree. While we were there, about 45 terrorists actually crept in, and the nearest guy was about 20 feet away from me, and they were also in a half circle around us. Because we were close to a waterhole, there were cattle there, we wouldn't have heard them anyway. They dug in about 8 inches and made themselves a little wall in front of them. The guys were armed with AK47s and RPGs in between them. Then when they had set up, the looi-ed us.
I woke up, and I thought I was dreaming. There were green and red tracers flying over my head. I could feel sand actually hitting me from the bullets that were landing around me. The guy sleeping next to me on a groundsheet was hit in the leg and in the stomach. His name was Booysen. He was pretty badly injured, and he was screaming and sitting up. I was trying to keep him down. I was trying to keep my head as low as possible as well, with my chin in the ground. These guys were looi-ing us big time - RPGs were hitting the tree above us and exploding. I shot off one shot with my R1 and I had a storing (stoppage) because I had got sand in it while trying not to be hit. I managed to get hold of the weapon of the guy next to me, and I shot one shot off and that also had a storing. By this time, the fire had going down - it only lasted maybe 30 seconds or a minute - I don't know. Then these terrorists took off and ran.
Luckily for us the two guys standing guard had the heavy barrel R1s, and they managed to open up fire straight away. I think that helped us a lot.
While the contact was going on, the guys were shouting `Eie magte' (`Own Forces') `Eie magte' The terrs were actually shouting fire and movement commands in Afrikaans. That's why we thought they were our own soldiers, in an attack against us. That's something very interesting. [Very sophisticated.] It was either ex-South African soldiers who had turned, or somebody who had been near a training base and heard all the commends and used them. It was unnerving in a way, because you thought you were being attacked by your own guys. [You would be less likely to return fire.] It would be interesting to know whether anyone had ever heard of the Terrs shouting commands in Afrikaans to mislead SADF people. Whether anyone else know the same story.
In the ambush, Booysen next to me was shot. Corporal Beukes, the one-liner, he was shot in the foot. Corporal Rousseau was pretty badly shot - he wasn't really from our section at all. He was a corporal from the mortars platoon who just came out because he was bored in base. He came out on this last patrol with us. People I spoke to afterwards said that when they went to 1 Mil in December of 1979, he was still there. He had bags hanging off of him, so he was pretty badly wounded. The platoon sergeant, his shirt was hanging up next to him on a little bush, and at the end of the fire fight it was full of holes. My sleeping bag was full of holes, and the ground sheet was full of holes. I was lucky that nothing ever happened to me.
I remember thinking to myself; `Where is Corporal Rix? He was my corporal, but I don't hear him.' Straight away we moved base, and set up somewhere else. People were saying; `Corporal Rix, where are you?' Nobody could find him. He was sleeping in between two guys, one was Geecox from Port Elizabeth - I can't remember who the other guy was. Corporal Rix was shot in between them. They found him under a bush - somehow he was ended up under this bush. He could have stood up in the fire fight, not knowing where he was and got shot and fell in the bush. I don't know. They recovered him, and called for a casevac. We made it clear were a Puma could land, but this guy nearly landed on top of me. I had to run to get out of the way, because he couldn't really see where he was landing. This was at night, probably about half an hour after it had happened.
Corporal Rix was loaded up along with all the wounded, except for Corporal Beukes because he only had a heel wound. That was the last time that I saw any of those guys who were shot. They never ever returned to base. That was it.
We stayed around that area until the next morning. No-body slept. I actually had a cigarette, although I don't smoke. The next morning a follow up group came, and they did a follow up on them. When the sun came up, we were walking around, and we found AK47 magazines and spent doppies (cartridge cases) lying all around the place in their stellings (positions) so we could see where the guys had been lying. Also the RPG rounds.
About 30 m away we found a dead body. It was one of the terrs who had been shot. He looked like he had just fallen asleep, although he was full of blood. As far as I can remember, they never ever caught these guys, even though they chased them with buffels. They were long gone. I think they just went into the local population. Hid their weapons and just became the local population.
Besides the one terr who was killed, we don't know if anyone else was hit.
After that we went back to Okatopi. We were in base, recovering and debriefing. They didn't really give us any afterthoughts; `How do you guys feel about the situation?' or anything. Some of the guys were actually trying to blame the platoon sergeant who didn't actually want to walk any further. He didn't actually want to go walking another 20 km that day. That's possibly why we were caught in the ambush. That all died down.
Some of the suspects in the area, we even had to stand guard over, which wasn't a wise move, considering that one of our mates had just been killed.
[Adjustment to having lost comrades?] They guys were pretty sad about it, but I think we just got on with it afterwards. Nobody reacted in a negative way. They were pretty well trained.
Shortly after that we left back to `the States' because it was our last patrol. This was probably around the end of April that we went back to Kimberley, handed all our kit in, and went on pass for a few weeks.
We came back and then we went to Rundu which was like a hotel compared to what we had been used to. We only spent a day or two there, and then the various platoons went off in various directions. We went to Nkurukuru, which was a base near the river, but we stood guard on a little island. Directly over the river was what must have been a holiday resort in the Portuguese days. It was really pretty, but the buildings had all been destroyed. We were an observation post on the Cubans - the Cubans were there. We used to give each other the-F signs, and we would swear at them. Nobody could speak Spanish, but we showed them our bare arses as well, and they understood.
We were young guys. We didn't really understand. Nobody ever really said; `Cubans are your enemies.' We spent three months there. The very first night that I spent there - there was a little tent on this island. I just heard movement in the vegetation all night, and I crapped myself. I'd never really slept in the wilderness like that. It turned out that there were hippos all over the place, eating all the vegetation. That was the cause of the noise that I had heard. I didn't sleep at all that night. That was our first night there - we were actually standing guard there on this island.
It turned out to be quite a holiday. We swam a lot, and fished, and threw grenades in to water to get some fish out. During the day if you weren't standing guard, you'd go for long walks along the river. One particular time we were walking patrol and we came across these three guys who could easily have been shot because to us they looked like terrorists. They put their hands up, and they turned out to be UNITA soldiers. They were fully armed. They were officers of UNITA. One of them was quite sick, so we radioed Rundu and they came and fetched these guys, but they weren't too kind to them. They treated them pretty badly. In fact they tied them up and blindfolded them and chucked them in the back of the truck.
One particular night when we were sleeping in the bush, I woke up and heard what to me sounded like someone screaming, but it was actually an elephant close by. I don't know how close he was. I don't know if he smelt us, and wandered off. It was like my worst nightmare; waking up next to an elephant. We never saw him, but we could hear him. That was pretty scary.
On the whole, it wasn't a hot area as far as terrorists were concerned.
When we were in Nkurunkuru, a signal came through that Finch or Nix, something had happened to your family and you had to go to Rundu. We both went, and it turned out to be me. My step-father had had a heart attack. We were in the base for a couple of days, and we knew the post office tiffie; the guys who sent us out our letters. He lent us a stripe each, and now all of a sudden we were lance corporals! One night I think we had about 2 rand between the two of us, and we went into the NCO's bar, and we bought quite a few drinks. In those days a beer cost you 18c and a shot of caine and brandy cost you about 12c. We came out of there pretty sloshed on about 2 rand. You couldn't do that today! So we got to see how the other half lived. Then we went back to base. I was denied to go back to Port Elizabeth even though my step-father had had a heart attack. We went back to Nkurunkuru and we had wild parties there at night. We used to buy booze from the cucca shop, or our canteen guy used to buy us special bottles when he went up to Rundu when he went there to do his shopping for the canteen. We used to have quite good parties there. One day our Company Commanding Officer and the RSM came along to inspect the base, and the first thing they did was to go and look at the dump, and they saw there were liquor bottles everywhere. Our Lieutenant was in deep shit!
BACK TO THE STATES
We finished up there, went back to Rundu. From Rundu we went back to Grootfontein and flew back to the States and went on leave, for another couple of weeks. We got back to Kimberley and they were looking for volunteers. I remembered; `Never volunteer for anything!' This time I also didn't volunteer. They said; `We need guys to go back up to Etali. We will promote some guys to become corporals and section leaders.' Some guys stepped forward and they became section leaders, and a few guys volunteered to go up. They got their quota of guys and there were still quite a lot of us left who hadn't volunteered. The guys who had got their kit, and they were off almost straight away. All of us who were left behind - they sent us off on pass for three weeks.
When we got back off our pass, they said that they needed somebody up in Grootfontein, so we went up there as a reaction force, for the last three months of my army training, my army two years.
We stayed in houses near the airport, and we stayed there. We stood guard around Grootfontein Base as well. We used to guard at the main gate. That turned out to be very nice. There was no action. We didn't get danger pay. We weren't allowed to actually go into the town. If we needed any refreshments, it all came from the SAWI. It was quite good. Pretty boring though, but it was better than walking around up at Etali.
When we cleared out and we all went back to Kimberley, and we had a few days to clear out. I spoke to some of the guys who had gone up to Etali, and they reckoned it was a nightmare. They did lots of patrols. They said it wasn't very good. There was quite a lot of action as well, as far as contacts go. They should never have volunteered!
Went we went up to Etali the first time, the first guy to die was Coetze who was shot by his mate in the base because his mate hadn't done the proper procedures as far as unloading his weapon when you came into the base. He was shot in the head by his friend, and killed.
The second guy to die was a driver who hadn't fastened his seat belt, and he had offloaded the guys in the bush and he came back, and he was travelling on a high speed on the main road, and he hit an ox. He went flying out and the buffel rolled over him.
After that it was Corporal Rix and the guys who were injured.
At the end of the two years national service, another guy I knew - they were on patrol somewhere, and the guy kicked a can, and blew himself up. It had been booby-trapped. This is what I heard when we were klaaring out. I knew the guy. He was a driver as well. He went out on the last patrol of the year, and he was killed. I think there was one or two other guys who were killed. They had this little memorial at 11 Commando Base, and all the names were on there from that year. There were quite a few guys killed that I know about. Other people who I have spoken to since said that there were more guys killed than I knew.
Contacts weren't every day, but at least every few days, you would hear that other platoons or other companies having contacts along the yati. Each platoon would have their area to patrol, and you would hear guys pretty close to you having contacts. You would hear bullets flying high. One particular time we were laying under a tree, and we heard this contact pretty close - mortars and everything. It was really close to us. It was our guys but from a different platoon having a contact.
[Any thoughts that the war would carry on for another 10 years?] I don't we even contemplated it. What we were there to do was our national service, and then go home, and look forward to our camps - or not look forward to our camps or whatever way you want to look at it. It was a pretty new war. I remember having to go to the dentist from Etali, and I remember having to travel on a unimog on a dirt road, with sandbags on the floor of the unimog, and that was our anti-mine vehicle. I remember the Bedford `Hippo' being quite active then. We did have the buffels, but there weren't that many of them, and they were only really used when they were dropping you off in the bush, when you had to go on `Oom Willie se pad' and those places. It was still a young war.
We had a klaaring out parade, but its not fresh in my mind. We had so many parades. I can't remember what type of parade we had. We had parades after basics. We had parades in the show grounds, at Kimberley Showgrounds. We had memorial parades for fallen soldiers, and things like that.
I only receive my Pro Patria medal through the post about 3 months later.
I was expecting to have about two years off without camps, so I think it was in about 1982 or the beginning of 1983 that I went up to Ondangwa with the Kaffarian Rifles from East London. My unit was actually regiment Piet Retief from Port Elizabeth, but the Kaffarian Rifles didn't have enough guys so we were called to go with them to Ondangwa. That's where we stood guard and walked patrol. We were joined by the SA Cape Corps.
The Kaffarian Rifles - they tried to keep you busy as much as possible. You actually had very little sleep with them. You were either standing guard, digging trenches, or cleaning trenches, or walking patrols, or going to fetch rats. From Oshakati. Day patrol, night patrol. You were always doing something. We did some three week patrols, but when we had a week or two back in base, they would keep you busy.
And later they called me up again. It was with Regiment Piet Retief. We went to Napara, West of Rundu. It had its own air base as well. It was a very sandy and dusty place. We were there about a month, mostly walking patrol. Our platoon was picked to go to Bogani Bridge to go and stand guard there, and we spent two months there, standing guard. It turned out to be like a holiday going there. Its across the Okavango River, North of Botswana, close to the Chorbe River. I believe that there was a 32 Battalion base quite close. They often crossed over where we were. We didn't really have contact with them - speaking to them or anything. Every time they came over they used to sing the song `Buffalo Soldiers' - the Bob Marley one.
We managed to get hold of some fishing lines, and we caught some tiger fish, and we spent a good two months there. Then we went off back to `the States' and carried on with our life.
I did a one-month camp at a base near Middlesburg, at an ammunition dump there. I can't remember the name of the area now. We spent a month standing guard around the ammunition dump, and that was it. That was the last camp I did.
PERMANENT FORCE 1987
And then I joined the Permanent Force. I managed to get a transfer from Port Elizabeth, Regiment Piet Retief up to Durban Command - I was living and working in Durban at the time. Taking the train from Durban to Port Elizabeth every time I was called up for a camp was a pain in the backside. They hadn't called me up for two or three years anyway.
I joined the permanent force as a chef at Natal Command, and I spent five years with them, learning the art of cooking, which has lead me to doing what I do now. I was a butcher at the time, so I saw it as one step up. It was something that I enjoyed doing. I was 27 years old at that stage, and I needed somebody to teach me cooking. I was too old for hotel schools. The army taught me a little bit. They didn't teach me that much. They taught me a lot about mass catering, which helped me when I left the permanent force to get into big catering companies to do other things. Now I have my own company catering for hundred of people, and sometimes thousands of people in fact, and helped me to get a work permit to work in Canada, and now I am a permanent resident. The army has helped me in ways that I would never have expected.
I left the permanent force because I got bored. I got tired of the same thing that I was doing every day, and I needed more stimulation. I left in August 1991, and I became a catering manager for Weston Agricultural College in Mooi River, and I spent two years there, and then I was transferred up to Vreiheid, to be the catering manager for a big school there, and about a year after that I became the area manager for Hospitality Caterers, which had a lot of government contracts for KwaZulu Natal, police force and schools. I was looking after that until April 1995 when I moved to England. I worked as a chef for a few years, until I got my catering business started.
My army experience is something that has always stuck with me, and whenever South Africans get together who were in the military, we all seem to start talking about it, as the most exciting time of our lives. It was pretty exciting in a way, although at the time you didn't think it was exciting - it was a bitter-sweet experience, but it is something that I would have done again.
View My Stats
Here is a short cut back to The Sentinel Projects Home Page.