National Service: 10 Artillery Brigade,
61 Mechanised Battalion
Feb 89 to July 90
My 61 Mech flashes.
I was born in 1970, so didn't know much about any of the politics of the seventies. Lack of brains and interest I supposed, like all children. I did knew something of the army, my uncle was drafted, a long time ago and I remembered a parade, very probably commando, in Bethal town when I was very small. I must have been four or five years old. My uncle was at the side when the parade drilled by and I remember being very impressed with their guns. At that time they were using the R1.
I was a member of the Voortrekkers. It was very nice paramilitary organization, supposed to be the Afrikaans version of the Boy Scouts, with very much the same uniform, but by the time I was there the uniform was brown shoes, knee lenght socks, brown shorts, a dressy sort of shirt with all your badges you could earn sown to your sleeve, a brown tie and a beret. At all the camps there was flag raising parades with "skriflesing en gebed" (scripture and prayers) every morning and evening. Sometimes when they were feeling generous the parade was in normal clothing, but mostly it was in uniform. We had lectures in fieldcraft and survival, slept in army tents (on the ground of course), and had inspection every morning. I didn't think those camps would have been possible without the logistical support of the army because all the catering equipment, the tents, generators and lights were supplied by the army.
In 1983 my father was called up for the Buttermilk camps, when all the older men who weren't drafted or did military service were militarised. A two week camp with some drill training and lectures and they were all given R1's to take home and a set of browns, ready for the "rooi gevaar".
One of the teachers of my school also went and it was quite funny to see him, a very snazzy dresser, in roofie-new browns and boots. His rifle was hanging from his shoulder with a piece of ski-rope.
I went to high school in 1983. That of course meant having to do "Jeugweerbaarheid" and "Geestesweerbaarheid". The boys and girls were split during the Jeugweerbaarheid period, the girls doing things like first aid (I think, I never was really in touch with the girls), and all the boys sent to the rugby field to learn how to drill.
The Geestesweerbaarheid was a semi religous period, with all sorts of team programs to help us see the evil. I remember one movie about the dangers of smoking, with yucky pictures of nicotine coated lungs, and another on the "totale aanslag" (total onslaught) on the morals of the youth. These days the youth do worse things and nobody worries.
The drilling was two periods on a Friday, total 1 hour and after it was finished we had break and then another two periods school. In Std 6 it was horrible. We had this very big mouthed matric sergeant to shout us around and we had to run whenever we did something wrong. All part of the normal standard procedure, take it or you're a sissie.
The officers were the normal teachers from school who wore their uniforms on Fridays. The uncommisioned teachers hung around in normal clothes just looking bored. We were all issued with brown shorts and shirts and had nice brown berets. It had some sort of gloss emblem on the front, I can't remember (springbok, maybe?).We had to wear the uniform to school every Friday, including winter. The shorts in winter were rather horrible. We normally had on long grey trousers with the shorts underneath. a quick strip and bingo, one "parate klein kadet". Every end of the year there was an official parade and some poor Colonel had to come from Pretoria and take the salute.
In 1987 Bronkhorstpsruit gave the Freedom of Bronkhorstspruit to State President P W Botha. The cadets had to give him a nice parade, the start of the long day. It was a big rigmarole, happening in late November, during the exams, and in between we had to practise. The most interesting part was the escorting officers, a colonel and a navy officer (commodore?), the first time we saw a navy officer with sword and medals. We even were inspected. When the president walked past me I was surprised that he was shorter than I was. I am about 1.8m tall.
In July 1986 I did a two week cadet camp at Wallmansthal, north of Pretoria. We spent most mornings on the parade ground, did an official evaluation, which I passed, and I was proclaimed a Kadetinstrukteur (Cadet instructor). We got a nice red shiny badge to wear on our left chest.
I had some hopes of getting somewhere. It didn't happen. It was very disappointing to see people who didn't do a single camp get promoted to cadet sergeant majors. At least I was made a sergeant.
Also in 1986 we had to register. That had to happen whenever we turned sixteen. I didn't complain, we got released from drilling that day.
We had some camps organized by the local commando, a long weekend usually. We were dressed up in totally oversized overalls, a bush hat, web belt and a waterbottle, sleeping gear our own worries, and we were given varkpanne. The normal lectures on fieldcraft and the rooi gevaar, a long night of nightmarches with a compass, standing guard, and then, the highlight of the weekend, the only reason I always went, an oppurtunity to shoot a rifle. Always a R1 beacause that's all the commando had. Sometimes a sort of display, with pyrotechnics, and one very memorable year they even exploded a Claymore antipersonnel mine for us. That was at the Zonderwater shooting range, the Genl Piet Joubert Skietbaan. We were also allowed to keep the empty cases, I had a small string of 7,62 LMG cases with the links.
I always expected to be called up, we were very well indoctrinated. Do your duty to your country. An added incentive was of course that if you didn't go you would be sent to jail. The other option, that quite a few choose, was to go to the police for four years. It was only a long time afterwords that I learned that you could also get exemption if you became and stayed for six years an ambulance or Fireman, or went to the merchant marine.
I didn't for one moment consider evading it. I only had to choose if I want to go to university first. Halfway through matric I realised that I didn't have a clue what I'm supposed to do at the university, (and I still don't know, but thats another story), so by sort of default I decided, or let it be decided for me, that I should go to the army. The only people I knew about was the End Conscription Campaign, and they were very dangerous people.
I was unfit throughout my life and I wasn't going to let idea of army change me. The nearest thing to exercise I got was to do a hiking trail of six days at the beginning of January 1989. The result of shoes that didn't fit properly, blue big toe nails on both feet, that fell of shortly afterwards and I went into the army without big toe nails. How many people can say that?
Inklaar, 31 Januarie 1989
Fear, terror, tears and angst were not part of my aanmelding. My father took me to Pretoria Station. There was nobody I knew, when suddenly my cousin came past. He was going to intelligence at Potchefstroom. Happy reunion, I'm going to 10 artillery Brigade, also at Potchefstroom, gladness all around, and we didn't see each other for two years.
We were taken by bus to Voortrekkerhoogte, there was a sort of inductment centre, they made sure everyone had papers, and knew where they were going. We had our first army meal, I only remembered I didn't eat the peas. Some very freightening soldiers with red hats searched through our luggage. He asked me if I got a knife, and trembling with terror, I showed him my little Okapi on my keys. He just gave me a smile and said that's okay. A schoolpal of mine was carrying needles and medication for bee stings, and they had him out of the queue and into a tent and he had to do some quick explaining.
Afterwords a train just stopped in the veldt next to the tents and we all got on. My second train trip. All the way to Potchefstroom. When we got off the train, we were split into two groups. Those for Intelligence one side, and the Artillery the other. We had a few Samil 50's to pick us up with a nice roofie ride to camp. The snuffeltiffies also had Samils, but their Samils were guarded with soldiers wearing battle jackets, and magazines on their rifles.
On arrival at the camp we were told to get off. There was food being handed out. I can't remember how we ate it, we certainly didn't have any kit at that stage. Afterwords we were told to wait while they were calling out our names. We waited, and we waited, and we waited some more. I was wearing shorts and a short sleeve shirt, and Potch get bleddie cold at night. My name was called after 10 that night.
We were taken to our tents, to put down our bags, put in a squad and moved (not drilled, no footstamping allowed) to the stores. Issued with a matrass, trommel, blankets. The sequence is a bit hazy, I was very tired and confused. We had to carry everything up to the tents, (and a matrass and trommel and blankets is very heavy at four o'clock in the morning) and told to sleep. Next morning I can't remember anything. It must have been the standard hurry up and wait sort of process, because we only got our kit late that night as well. We were taken to the stores again, organised into another of these famous army queues, and had to strip to our underwear. Most were not an inspiring sight.
Then we were issued. First trousers, shirts, socks, tekkies, of which we had to put on one to see if it fit, then were given the rest. By the end we were decently dressed. After everything was issued, the list were read out, and everyone had to check he had everything. It was dark, I couldn't count and got an extra pair of socks issued. Afterwards the signing for the kit, it could have been anything written on there, we don't know. I'm not even sure I knew my force number by that stage. Dark and tired. Apparently the kit was worth about R3000.
The next morning, on the Samils again, taken to the hospital in Potch for medical checks. Went through all the checkups, including being asked if I was gay. Got a piece of paper, officially declared G1K1. Highest medical clearance, can be expected to do anything, anywhere. When I went to hand it in, that bigmouthed sergeant I had in St 6 was sitting behind the desk, a full lieutenant in the Permanent Force, and he did recognize me. Fortunately he was assigned to a 143 Battery so I never saw him close up again.
That medical paper did a big diffence. All the nice walking everywhere, no running, immediantely changed into "roer jou gat, en hardloop".
Then there was another calm week of preparing the base. We had to remove all grass, and if the bombardier sees you leaning on a spade the spade gets a turn to lean on you. The absolutely most terrible thing about that week was the constant rain.Everything was muddy, and since some bright spark (probably PF) had some red clay brought in and spread before the battery offices everything was a terrible red muddy mess. Someone got desperate enough and trucks full of gravel were brought in.
A lot of guys from a too big intake at 5 SAI in Ladysmith arrived. They were mostly from Natal, mostly English speaking, and very pissed of from being so far from home. It took a few weeks before they were assimilated.
The battery was split in two parts. Half got placed in the bungalows, and the other half, me included, got place in the tents next to the battery offices. We weren't allowed in the bungalow, and there were temporary washrooms next to the bungalow. It had gas- fired heaters that never worked, so we always got cold water. Our mess was a wooden structure with a tin roof. The first night I walked into the tent there were a ground sheet, six beds and cupboards, and the kakiebos at the entrance touched me under my arms. I got a opportunity to switch the next day, One of my tentmates were at school with me. His surname was Marais. I sat behind him in the hall when we were writing our matriculation exams.
The tents were put up by the leadergroup before we arrived. The twelve of them had to put up about 50 tents in a day, and thay did make a big mess of it. We had to redo all their work.
We were six in the tent. Me and Marais, were from the same school. A Le Roux, from the Cape Province, two guys from Middelburg, Tvl, and one from Witbank. The chap from Witbank only had St 6, Middelburgers had St 9, us other three all three had Matric exemption and were going to university. Marais and Le Roux went to Artillery School, becoming a Bombardier and 2nd Lieutenant respectively.
There were two other chaps first, but they removed themselves to the bungalow by some means. One was an interesting example. In the beginning he wanted to become PF but as the week went on the rain started to wear him out and his enthusiam waned very quickly. The tent were leaking like sieve, we were sleeping in our sleeping bags, because the beds were wet through.. My sheets even got some mildew spots on them, which were still on them some months later. We were supposed to exchange it every week, but that never happened.
We also had a sports day at Potchefstroom University's sport fields, 142 coming second after Bde HQ and Artillery School
The first haircut was quite short, and it was amazing how the people you learned to recognize in the previous 5 days become characterless. I did get used to it again.
The first few week felt just like a camp, I've been on many, and this wasn't strange. Afterwards I was used to anything.
Basic Training, 20 February 1989
Basic training started about two weeks after we arrived. We weren't told it's starting, just one morning we were taken to the parade ground for two hours of drill. That was the norm for the rest of basics. Two hours drill every morning. I do believe that was what made us fit. Walking around quickly for two hours each day, swinging our arms vigorously, just the recipe the fitness professionals told us would work. The PT sessions each afternoon was a joke. Just an excuse to chase us around. I don't believe we got any aerobic benefits from that at all.
A group from each battery was chosen to do biokinetics tests. There were doctors from 1 Mililtary hospital and some people from the Potchefstroom University who did all sorts of tests on us, including running on a treadmill. We were retested after basics, and the difference in my case was quite amazing.
The people from 141 Bty had the only fitness instructor in the entire base and their biokinetics group were taken out every day for PT by him. I don't know if it made any difference. Twice a week we were had to put on our battle jackets and staaldakke and go to the field outside the base for field training. Every battery went to a different area around the base.
At six weeks we got a weekend pass, to go home and let our mothers wash all our clothes. My mother wasn't very impressed with my efforts, but I considered it good considering that we had to wash in Fire buckets with cold water. I also didn't iron a single piece of clothing during the entire basics. We weren't allowed to go into the bungalow, and there was only one plug in the mess.
After the first pass the parents were allowed to come and visit on weekends. They could even took the troops out of the base to town, and give them some decent food.
The first of April, Swapo entered Namibia. The MRL's from 4 Art left the base and the sergeant got volunteers who spend an afternoon loading missiles onto a train. The OP trained officers also left and went to Namibia.
Basics were just there. Most of the lectures were incredibly boring. All we wanted to do was sleep. I saw one guy sitting up at the mess with his chin on his staaldak and he didn't have a clue on what was going on around him.
We also did our first guard duty. We could stay in the base, which we did normally, or could be assigned to look after the Ammo Corps place a few kilometres away, or we could be sent to the magazine. One bright guy stole an exercise grenade from the magazine and blew his hand away. Some of the troops doing basics with us were to become PF members of the Ammo Corps. They had green berets, and were allowed to have slightly longer hair. I remember once after haircut when the bombardier asked one guy why his hair weren't cut he replied: "Ammo Corps Bombardier, I refuse to cut my hair."
Some other units I believe had to do their entire basics dressed in battle jackets and staaldakke and carrying their rifles. We only started rifle drills in about the fourth week, and otherwise we only carried our rifles for field lectures.
I remember the boredom the most. The entire three months were a blur. You know you had to get it over with, its not enjoyable and if an instructor is in a bad mood nothing can make him better.
The brigade sergeant major (can't remember his surname, we just called him Sampie (Claasens?)) was the most feared person on the base. Our Bombardier said to us at the beginning we had to be very careful if we see him. He was a short man with a green patch behind the AOI badge. One of the guys just said: 'n Klein groen mannetjie (little green man). Everybody, including the bombardier laughed at that. That sergeant major become "Kommandement Noord Transvaal' sergeant major. He was a real professional soldier. during sport parades he always called the 2nd Lieutenants, Sir, respect they didn't get very often, not even from the troops.
The instructors were the normal sort. National servicemen who went to Artillery School. We had a Bombardier Strydom, who joined PF during basics. He wasn't very professional. He spent a lot of the time in the one of the tents talking nonsense. The officer changed during basics, our original one was the administrative officer and he couln't cope with everything. We didn't have much to do with the other platoons instructors, except during the lectures in the mess.
We had a PF sergeant, who was in charge mostly. He also left the army shortly after basics. The sergeant major was on course during most of the year and we saw him only a few times. The battery commander, Captain Oelofse, were a short little man, apparently with Springbok colours in judo.
The people who were potential Junior Leaders went on a long route march for a few days, coming back with blisters and horror stories. The chosen ones went to Artillery School in the middle of April.
At the end of basics, Saturday 29 April 1989, we had an open day with a brigade parade. It wasn't that special because all the people selected for Artillery school had already left, and then they made it a brigade parade which means half the troops on parade were from 4 Art Regt. It was a miserably cold day, and fortunately I warned my parents to bring along hot clothes. We were freezing on parade with short sleeve shirts. After the parade there was a demonstration shoot by all the pieces. That was also the first time we saw the guns shooting.
There was a rifle and LMG demonstration, afterwords a infantry attack, incluing a RPG being fired. Then all the Artillery pieces. First the 120mm Mortar, also shooting rocket assist projectiles, the G1 (25 pounder), G2 (5.5 inch), the G5 and the Valkyrie Multiple Rocket Launcher. Afterwards we went home for a week's leave.
The end of basics parade, the entire 10 Artillery brigade on the parade ground. In the front, Cmdt Holtzhausen, commander of 14 Art Regt. 4 Art Regiment and Brigade HQ were also there. Don't let the short sleeves fool you, it was absolutely freezing that day.
The end of basics parade, the entire 10 Artillery brigade on the parade ground. In the front, Cmdt Holtzhausen, commander of 14 Art Regt. 4 Art Regiment and Brigade HQ were also there. Don't let the short sleeves fool you, it was absolutely freezing that day.
A G5 and Guntrekker on the Parade Ground
A G2 (5.5") being deployed
The shooting demonstration. An M5 120mm mortar shooting, at the back a troop of G1's, better known as the 25 pounder. The gunners shooting were probably from 4 Art Regt.
Phase 1, 141 Bty, May 1989
After we got back from that leave, we were asked what do we want to do. I wanted to become a technical assistent (TA), the person who is responsible for the calculations for the laying of the guns. There were too many so I opted for observation post assistant. We were lucky and could choose. Some of the other batteries just told their people where to go, no choices.
Then all the training groups were regrouped into different batteries. We, the TA's, OPA's and the surveyors were all grouped into 141, the drivers were sent to 142 (my old bty), 143 I couldn't remember, but possibly the MRL crews, 144 were all the G5 gun crews, 2 Medium were the aristocracy, the first group to be trained on the G6, and 145 were the softies from Regiment HQ, the REMF's (Rear Echelon Mother Fuckers). All the G4K4's were there, doing the administrative work, the potential medics were sent there (they had to hang around for 5 months before they were sent on their course), the no 6's on the guns, who were supposed to be the technical guys were supposed to be doing their course, never did anything that we were aware of, and we never saw them again.
We slept in tents again, right next to our old lines. Of course the bungalow stayed empty. We did our training, mostly theoretical with lectures on ballistics, how to lay a gun on target and map reading. I enjoyed that part very much. We were a nice group, strangely enough more than half the group were english speaking, so my english improved very much, and after the while the language of choice were english. Even the Afrikaans guys talked English to each other.
We did a shooting range sweep one day. The entire regiment was arranged in a line and we walked across the Potch shooting range, having to look for dud amunition so that it could be destroyed afterwards. I only saw one 120 round that could be something. Of course some of the idiots picked up some components of shells for souveniers. They each had to dig a hole, 2m x 2m x 2m to bury that in.
We all had to repeat that litany. "Ek verklaar dat ek geen lewendige ammunisie, lee doppies of enige deel daarvan in my besit het nie, Luitenant" (I declare that I don't have any live ammunition, empty cartridges or any part thereof in my posession, Lieutenant) Apparently the Lieutenant part were important, as the declaration had to be made to an officer.
We were also volunteered for a parade. It was 14 Art Regt memorial parade. There was a memorial with a G1 (25 pndr, 88mm) on it. We worked very hard and developed a way with some hand signals of doing the entire parade without the time being called out, including caps off and caps on.
That day we also went on leave. When we come back the key to the gun lockup was gone. We waited a week and when we finally got our rifles found that the roof has been leaking. It was a mess.
Phase 2, 2 Medium Battery, July 1989
After two months in 141 all the OPA's were moved again, this time to 2 Medium, for further training. Together we also got some guys who were sent from the other batteries to become OP signallers. We started our first training in radio procedures. The only bad part was being with the G6 prima donnas, who never were on time for roll call. Their instructors were civilians from the manufacturers, so they had a nice time. Our bombardier were a little blonde Greek guy, Bdr Monoyoudis, we were about 40 in the group.
One day we were told to put on our mooi-moois (fancy dress: cravats, shoulder flashes, white leggings and belts). We were taken by bus to Air Force base Snake Valley in Centurion. There was a hanger full of captured Angolan and Cuban equipment. They gave us a tour through the facility, showing us everything, starting up the engines, explaining the weak points of the vehicles. There were BRDM's, BTR's, a SAM -8 system, SAM -6 systems, jeeps and trucks. There even was a MiG-21 without wings that did in forced landing in Northern Namibia after getting lost. I believe that aircraft is now in the Air Force Museum at Zwartkops Air Force Base.
The commander was a captain. When we went to the field for field training he was in charge. A thorougly professional soldier, an absolute pleasure to work with. He even took us for PT session, using a little blue book, and that was the only time I felt the PT was worthwhile. He was also the first commander I had who looked after the welfare of the troops. He had two chefs in the veldt and he made sure the food was good and enough. Even during the week we ate rat packs the chef's duties included making sure there were hot water for shaving every morning at 5. That in July, in the winter in Potchefstroom when the water bunker was completely frozen. The shefs even had to supply hot water after meals to wash our dixies in. All the cleaning duties were handed out to the light duties, so no one wanted to become ill.
Our training started to get serious. The map reading was difficult in the beginning, but it was getting right. The first day a gun shot from the Ammo Corps area, so we saw our first explosions. We learned all the procedures, learned to draw the panorame sketches. It was absolutely miserably cold. None of us undressed or washed for the entire three weeks. I got into my sleeping bags (we were issued with inners before we went out) with my boots on and with my rifle, because everything were covered in frost in the mornings.
We moved out from our stand to another position one night, had to dig new trenches in the dark, and be ready the next morning. We stayed there a few days. While there Impala's did bombing on the range, coming over our heads to toss bomb some target and then turning and shooting at the targets with their cannon. The last day the wind was blowing, we even had some sleet falling, and Pienaar couldn't get a fire bucket even slightly warm using six fuel tablets. We had to close the trenches at night, and march back to our base.
We even did a night march, a sort of bucket crawl where we had to touch a bucket before we were seen. We won, mostly through good luck and Wessels who got us lost so that we arrived after the guards were fast asleep.
The rest of 2 Medium joined the OP's just after we left. One of them picked up a mortar round in the field and took it home on leave with him and killed and wounded a few people in his parents' kitchen.
The 14 Art cravat
Back to 142, Exercise Diepdink
After that was finished all the trainees were sent back to their batteries. That was in the middle of July. We were the first group to klaar back into 142, where most of the drivers still were. That afternoon we had to take part in a big opfok because the battery was slapgat. When we complained we didn't have anything to do with that Lt Jacobie just said it would do us good. The gunners come back a few days later.
We were a G5 battery. 141 were the potential Parabats, with the 120mm Mortars. They never went there because only 50 out of 110 passed the parachute course. They spent their last part doing patrols in KwaZulu Natal. 143 had the MRL's. 144 also had G5 guns and 2 Medium had the G6's.
The battery commander were Lt Rademeyer, 2ib (tweede in bevel, second in command) was Lt Herbst.
The entire unit had to regroup again and recreate sense of indentity. That took a very long time. The drivers were considered the softies, the gunners thought themselve very tough, nobody understood what the TA's and surveyors did.
The field training with the guns started in the middle of August. All the Observation post people were grouped together under the command of 2ib (tweede in bevel, second in command) of 14 Art, Kapt de Villers. We were issued with Ratels. Our Ratel was a Ratel 60. We were very proud of it, 144's OP's got a Samil 50 for a vehicle. For our battery the Drivers was Chenel and Pieterse, Wessels, Britz and I were the OPA's the signallers were van Dyk, Alison and a guy whose name I can't remember. There was also another trained OP signaller, Sutton, who got himself assigned to the TA's vehicle where his friends were. The officer responsible for the OP's was 2nd Lieutenant Herbst.
There was a general blurring of duties. All the OPA's were also trained as signallers, so we also took turns at the radio. The first shooting with the guns was quite an experience. We did see it before but we weren't responsible. There also were quite a few cock-up. One day when the battery read through the position report it shows they were 200m from us. One gun got a projectile stuck in the barrel. The No 1 was Strydom. It had to sleep outside the base for a few days until they figured out to remove it.
One day our officers were gone, so we were assigned to the commander from artillery school. While we were busy he got a message that one of his instructors lost his hand in an accident with a 120 mortar. He also had to leave.
Marais (who were with me in Basics) told me later that he found the Bombardier's hand in the grass. The safety was assembled wrong. They tried to fire. Nothing happened, set the mortar to safe, and when he tried to extract the projectile, pushed it onto the "safe" firing pin.
Lieutenant Rademeyer was temporary Battery commander. He used to be a sergeant in the MRL battery attached 32 Battalion. He didn't have any training in OP procedures so we had another enjoyable time teaching him. I even managed to get him once to give me a triangular beacon as a target. We also did our first night shoot on a very rocky hill. It was spectacular to see the sparks fly.
The nice parts about field deployments in Potch shooting range was the speed. All the convoys speed were regulated at 20km/h. I spend many happy hours sleeping in the back of the Ratel. In that narrow corridor next to the engine it is nice and cozy, sleeping on the bags.
For some reason the OP teams went into the base one Saturday. It was an eerie experience. The PF's who were not in the veldt were at home, and the entire regiment, including RHQ were in the field. The base was dead, empty and silent with no movement.
Beginning of September the battery training was over. We were did some training on small arms. "Kleinkaliber wapens" it was called. The LMG's, RPG, Snotneus and 12.7 and 7.62 Brownings as well as the 60mm mortar. The guys issued with the LMG's had to give back their R4's. Not a good deal at all. Ammunition were scarce, I weren't one of the chosen. The only thing I did was shoot one shell from a 60mm as the loader, and get to aim it with another. We also got one hand grenade throw. There were also some pyrotechnic displays. We also did Alpha Bravo movements for contacts.
The last day we did a sort of shoot as ending of the course. I got about 90 R4 rounds and shot them out into the field at tins and anthills. The Brownings also shot from the mounts on top of the Guntrekkers. That was all spoiled when an officer shot a flare into the long grass.
Fighting fires were a constant occupation during the training. Since the OP's were at the front we got to put out all the fires caused by the guns. Only once or twice when things were really bad the gunners were brought to help. One week we were wakened every morning at two o'clock to go out and put out fires. Once in the gun positions a fire went through, destroying some kit.
And then a nice weeklong pass.
Lohatla, October 1989
Rumours abounded about Lohatla. One officer even told us Lohatla is so big that a unit once got lost for three days. We certainly didn't know what to expect. The exercise name I can't remember. (Ystervuis?)
The major part of the entire exercise was getting ready for the trip. The entire regiment had to move with all the lack of vehicles to their disposal. The vehicles were divided into parcels. Every parcel had to leave the base every 15 minutes. That was to make sure there is not a complete traffic jam all the way to Lohatla. And so that the poor Civvies could get past us, because the convoy speed was very low. I believe it was 60. We also were not to drive at night, so that stopover would be at Vryburg. We even got a quick pass into town to draw money and buy things. That was the army equivalent of a package trip. There was some sort of military base there where we refuelled. In our case that didn't matter, because the entire next day the other OP Ratel towed us because our Ratel was as usual in trouble.
We arrived at Lohatla during the next day. It was still daylight, and we weren't very much impressed. The main road from the gate to our place went pass the SADFI store, which none of us had ever seen before. They gave us a compound at the Eastern end of the base. It was a great place. There was a sort of a hanger where the tiffies worked, and we waited for our Ratel, again. The washing facilities were absolutely great. They were well designed, big enough and we had lots of hot water, for the first time.
The schef's got a place where they could put their mobile kitchens. It was just a sort of a sink roof with concrete floor. We certainly ate there, I don't know about the other batteries. We slept in tents. It was about 10 to a tent, in sleeping bags, on the groundsheet, with a nice sandy floor. Quite comfortable.
The first time we went out it was quite interesting. Very little trees but lots of knee level shrubs, with thorns. Some places we could hardly walk. There were spots that had quite a few trees. There were some hills, but the rest were flat.
Like always the OP's with the commanders went elsewhere. We usually went to the north, the batteries were deployed to the south. The first two week it was mostly exercising again. Making sure we wouldn't kill our own troops. We had a nice OP on a hill, overlooking a flat area, in the middle of which there was a single big tree. We called it First National Tree, looking very much like the symbol of First National Bank. Some idiot with a Ratel 90 took it down. There we were joined up with some officers from artillery school. They had to make sure everything goes right. There were some nice mistakes. One morning I was standing at the Ratel's door, when a projectile landed 100m from us. It is an interesting experience, the air seems to be sucked from your lungs. The commandant was furious. All the gunners from all the batteries had to come to the OP positions where they were kakked on because they didn't do their work right.
Our battery had a nice start. Our shooting was quite good, but then it stated to deteriorate. One night they had to redeploy in the dark. They had the OP report, we were waiting for their position report. I was on guard, waiting. 2 o'clock in the morning they were finished, hours after the other batteries. I woke Lt Herbst, we had to shoot in. First shot. Absolutely nothing, can't see where it landed. No flash, we even used the nightscope to look around the horizon to see if we could see some dust, but no. Check everything, asked the battery to check. Repeat, nothing. 3 in the morning. No, forget about everything, we will sort it out in daylight.
The next morning we went to the battery. Lieutenant Rademeyer was quite angry. He went throught the entire proses with the surveyors and the TA. The problem: the surveyors were using their own shortcuts and notebooks instead of the correct forms. Where those two shots landed we still don't know. Fortunately not on somebody's head, or we would have known.
Next problem came when we had to shoot in the guns. Fancy of course, wanting to show of in front of all the other OP's. The shots from gun 6 went in beautifully. Order: Battery left, 10 , 1 shot fire for effect. shot one to five, one km away from target, shot 6, on target, shot 7 and 8 away. The no 3 on the gun didn't have his sight correct.
Once, while preparing for a fire mission, a sudden warning over the radio. A MRL has lanched a rocket without being set up properly. It landed outside the Lohatla ground, near a farm house, after going over our heads. The gunner was setting up when there were a short circuit.
After that there weren't many problems. The gunnery was excellent, and even we pickey OP's were pleased. When we could give 25m corrections the guns are good. Every gun got its own elevation and bearing, the shots landing as one.
The two signallers were sent of to do baanpatrollie for a few days. While they were away I were the signaller. That time I also saw a Citizen Force regiment equipped with tanks, not the Olifant. It was a small tank with the turret right at the back. I have never been able to find out what that was.
We did a lovely shoot from a high koppie. Because of the height the safety restriction were very relaxed, so most of the shots landed below us, but quite close. We could see the dust from the scrapnel from almost every shot. The MRL's had the airburst fuses, with a few just exploding mid-air, not reaching the target.
The main exercise started at about week three, were scheduled for about a week. We were attached to operate as VOO (Front observation officer). We got an officer from somewhere who were our officer for the first part of the exercise. He was very subdued, we didn't see much of him. The first night we were driving waiting for a long time. I went to sleep. Later on the driver told me we drove across a bridge which the sappers put up during the night.
The next morning were took part in an attack with the infantry. All our driver had to do was to stay close to the command Ratel. They did an attack on an imagenary enemy position. All the Ratels were standing in a row, shooting the hell out of a poor defenceless koppie. We just sat and enjoyed the spectacle, we never saw Ratels shooting before. They all carried 20mm guns. After the shoot was over they shot white phosporus flares and reversed as quickly as they could. Maybe they were afraid the koppie was going to attack back? I don't know how the infantry's minds work. Our Ratel couldn't keep up, so the driver had to make a quick U-turn.
We saw Mirage F1's and Impala's bombing. The F1's came very low over our heads, pop up and dive bombed another threatening koppie. The next were the Impala's toss bombing the koppie
The next there was another attack, this time combined infantry and armour. The scenario was a minefield blocking progress. So everybody had to wait until the sappers cleared paths through the minefield. Meanwhile the infantry shot the hell out of the ground 10m in front of them while I saw some very halfhearted alpha, bravo movements going towards the front. I was sitting, very comfortably, highly illegal, against the camo net and spare wheel, just enjoying the show, nothing to do. That was my first encounter with the Olifants and I was very surprised at the height of the Ratel. I looked down on the turret of one of the tanks from the top of the Ratel.
We deployed again with the infantry. While we were waiting, the entire 14 Art Regt deployed in front of us. That was something I only saw a few times. The G6's were right in ront of us and 143 to the left. When the infantery went to close to the guns to look, the art commander just warned the infantry commander over the Radio that the Valkyries had a 100m backblast, and he should warn his troops
The last part of the exercise, artillery wise, was a divisional fire mission. That didn't happen very often. It was 14 Art, 4 Art, and quite a few citizen force units. We OPA's weren't even allowed close. All the bigheads were down below, the chief OP was our old 2Med captain, we sat on the top viewpoint of the koppie.
Combined with the fire mission was a demonstration. There was a lot of civilians, sitting on a platform down below. Probably military attaches and press. We saw all the might of the SADF paraded in front of us. Three Olifants firing on the move. A Rooikat hiding under a camouflage net suddenly bursting out and giving a demonstration. The anti Aircraft tried to shoot down a little radio controlled aircraft with an Ystervark. They did manage to make a nice big hole in its wing but the final insult was the victory roll over their heads. The fire mission was conducted at the same time.
After all that we moved back to base. Pack up, go back to Potch. One day trip, extremely comfortable. Driver in front, van Dyk in the turret at the Radio's and Britz and I had a side of the Ratel each. I think I slept most of the way. We had an MP on a motorcycle chasing us through Potch regulating the traffic.
Shortly afterwards the commandant called us for a meeting. It was in 144's mess. He told us in strictest confidence that we are going to 61 Mech at Walvisbay. We weren't allowed to tell our parent or anybody else, we were to tell them were going to Lohatla for some more training. All he did was confirm all the rumours, and I think that by then the entire base knew.
We had a braai, and some of the guys got their stripes, (one kameelbyt each). They were taken by the officers to the bar for a drink. I sold my beers to a chap in 141.
We klaared out from 14 Art, experiencing the delight of waiting for the storemen to do their work. We had to be at the stores at 7:00 in the morning. At 8:00 the storemen arrived, we counted and handed back equipment. At 9:00 they closed the doors for teatime, reopen at eleven, close for lunch at 12:00, reopen at 14:00, stop for the day at 15:00. It felt like a century. Two of our binoculars had the wrong serial numbers, I got one of ours from the commander of 141 Bty. The other was gone, and Britz and I had to pay. It was about R250, and I wasn't impressed. In retrospect I should have kept the binoculars with the wrong serial number, no one would have missed it. 144's OP's had ours, they were still in Upington, doing something called Riemvasmaak. The drivers and signallers refused to help pay, but when some of the Ratels kit was missing they expected us to contribute, suddenly it was team again.
We got a weeks pass, and when we come back we handed back the rest of our kit, The trommels, matresses. I think our rifles were handed in before we went on pass. The tiffies refused to take it back until it was clean. By the way, ou manne was wrong. It is just as difficult carrying a trommel and matrass back to the stores as up.
Our new ofiicers and NCO's joined us during that week.
That night we slept in the bungalow on the floor. Our tents were struck. Next morning we went to Potch aerodrome, the air force side. There was a cute little hanger, and inside they were working on a seeker RPV. They were based at Potch then.
The aircraft was a C130 of SAFAIR. Webbing seats, ours kit were stacked on the ramp and strapped. It must have some nice hydraulics because it managed to close with that weight on it. As we were flying, we got an opportunity to go in two's up to the flight deck. I must have been there somewhere over the Kalahari, judging from the trees.
Walvis Bay - 61 Mechanized Battalion Group
First sight of Walvis Bay, most of the guys were disgusted, "They should have given this place to Namibia". It was sand everywhere. Potch airfield were neat grassy, neat grey painted metal gates, Rooikop had tarred pole gates, rusted wire, sand everywhere. We loaded our kit on a Kwevoel, and we had the luxury of being taken to the base in the PF's bus. Sand and little knee high bushes, up to the horizon.
The base was quite neat, equipment everywhere, we saw ours guns standing under covers near the mess. All the ou manne were still there. They have only been at Walvis for a few weeks, being the last SADF unit to withdraw from Namibia. There were some tents for us. We were the first of the new groups to arrive.
We went through the normal administrative procedures to make sure no-one has dissapeared.
The ou manne had their passing out parade. We had the honour of looking at it. Afterwards we were drilled back to the base. Our drilling was so good even the sergeant major was impressed.
In the army you became an old man when the new troops klaared in. For the infantry and other people whose training was short, that meant every six months. The Artillery, armour and I believe the sappers only had one intake a year, because the training took so long.
After the ou manne left we moved into the bungalows. We had two bungalows, and a few tents. After we were settled we were shuffled again with the different groups in different batteries. The gunners had one side and we, the drivers, signallers etc had the other side.
We were regrouped. There were two PF NCO's in the Bty, a bombardier and Sgt Strydom, who were the troop NCO's. Two of the bombardiers become gun no 1's, which didn't give them any satisfaction. The other gunners were very much rearranged, some no 1's losing their jobs, the drivers were given their vehicles. For the first time their seemed to be enough equipment to go around.
Me, being one of the lucky guys, didn't get any vehicle, any responsiblities, and an officer I haven't seen before and only talked to twice during the entire time. There were only two other OP Ratels, the other two being destroyed in Angola.
I spend most of my time in 45B, with Britz and van Dyk. The OP was Lt Swanepoel, the driver a new guy called Barnard. The other Ratel had Wessels, the signaller I can't remember and the OP a short Lieutenant from the Cape. Van Staden was in the Command Ratel.
We did some retraining, learning to do it the 61 way Learning again to set up the goniometer and theodelites and going again through the procedures.
Just before Christmas day we had a buffet lunch in our hanger. The hanger was festooned with camouflage nets and all the PF's and their wives and children were there. There were also a speech or two. The next four days we had Rat packs, so that the chefs could "rest".
We got our first introduction to "korvee dienste". That means helping out in the kitchen. I was to have my fill of that.
Our first guard duties also were a bit different. In Potch we did it infrequently. Here the Lance Bombardiers were responsible for handing out times which means their friends got the choice times. There were three positions. Main gate, closest to the tarred road, north gate, closest to Rooikop airport, and the magazine.
We saw a lot of the magazine the first weeks. 61 Mech were one the last operational unit to leave South West Africa. For us, coming from training and its regulations, it was shock to see all the ammo just lying around. I opened the Ratel's bin and there were six handgrenades rolling around without any protection.
All the Kwevoels were still loaded with the shells. I do believe they left all the ammo there for the new intake. We had to offload it and store it in the building in the magazine. All the lot numbers in each store should be the same and there may only be a certain amount of explosives per building. Since the shells were loaded mixed we had a lot of rearranging to do as well.
There were the normal green HE shells, we saw our first propaganda shells. They were hollow and could be filled with leaflets. There were also some of the very first cluster ammunition shells for the G5's. They have never been used in combat. Lt Conradie told us when they first received the shells, they decided to test it, with out permission, to "validate the skootstafels". They heard the shell explode, but couldn't see anything, and then the dust lifted behind them, where they weren't expecting it. There were repercussions about that and they even had to write a report for Pretoria.
After the Christmas break we moved the vehicles into the hanger.
Just after New Year Staff Sergeant Crafford was promoted, and become AOII Crafford.
The battery did their first deployment into the desert.
Training to shoot again, this way the 61 Mech way. As Lt Conradie said; "What is so difficult about it?" The TPO's Ratel use its GPS to get the position, the guns pull in and 15 minutes later the battery's ready to fire.
There isn't even the problem with the equipment. In Angola all the equipment had to be removed from the guns because the bushes will rip it of, in Walvis if it falls of everyone will see it.
We were moving ahead of the guns like always, getting to know the shooting range. In the West were the dunes, with dune 7 as the Southern end, the South border were the Rooikop- Walvis road, with the warning signs that said sand. The North end was a row of rusted drums that was the Border with Namibia, and beyond that we could see Swakopmund. The East was another row of drums, going down again to the Walvis Road.
When we came to Walvis their was an UNTAG post at that border post, with the United Nations flag flying over it. We sometimes saw UNTAG troops in Walvis but we kept our distance. Once in a while a Huey would come flying over. We heard the chop chop for a long time and then this slow white helicopter come over.
The Meteorological Technical Assistants (Met TA's) joined us. They did their training at artillery school. They had a Kwevoel with a container in the back with a dish to track weather balloons. It was never used.
Sergeant Major Crafford showed us one day how to destroy old gun charges. The cordite burned very impressively with a big whoosh. Part of the charge was a sheet of alumnium foil to prevent the copper from the shell sticking to the barrel. In Angola they stuck some of that foil onto a weather balloon and sent it up as a radar reflector. The Angolans took a few shots at it with the SAM's, showing the OP's exactly where they were.
In the middle of the shooting range there were a little black hill, imaginatively named Swartkoppie. It was an old volcano. I saw a very big, black scorpion there, the scorpions in the rest of the desert were brown. We fortunately didn't see many.
We parked on that koppie, and it was there that we fired our first delayed action shells. We were looking forward to it, but it was a bit of a comedown. Just a small dustcload as the shell exploded under the ground, and not much more.
The battery also did a small calibre training shoot. Britz and I were just offloaded at a point with a Radio and told to stop everyone coming through. There was only a small wooden shelter, with place for sitting only. We didn't know what to expect, and spent an entire night there with no sleeping bags or any equipment. It was absolutely freezing. By that time the radio battery was flat, and we could only receive, and not send. During the following morning an AO from one of the companies came through with two Kwevoels, coming to drop carwrecks on the shooting range. He said he knew where they were shooting and would keep away. Just as well because imagine what sort of shit I would have been in if a PF got hurt.
Later on everybody was well equipped for baanpatrollie, with bivvies and everything, because they knew what to expect. They also spend most of their time tanning.
So I missed another oppurtunity to see small caliber guns shoot. The other guys said it was a glorious shoot with all the weapons shooting. Even our Ratel 60 had a few shots. I would have loved to see that. I spend so many hours looking at it, and fiddling with it.
The entire Battalion was deployed in the desert at that time. I remember seeing a platoon of the companies' Ratels going past with all the guys sitting on top, and I couldn't imagine how they would all fit inside.
There was a demonstration shoot for some civvies on the ridges to the south of swartkoppie. The Battalions guys got to sit to one side, and all the subunits gave a demo. The Olifant tank shot at a truck standing in the desert, when the dust settled, it looked like nothing had happened. The G5, number 1 was an English guy Smit, shot 2 shots. They did a nice bobaan shoot, that seldom happened, with the barrel almost straight up. The charge couldn't have been very high, the flighttime was only about forty seconds. The shells landed about 5 km away. Between shots poor Smit had to drop the barrel flat with the handwheel, so that they could reload. I don't know why they didn't use the ram, was probably not working. After the first shot, AO Crafford said, tea break, while we wait for the shell to land.
The civves were a group of schoolchildren, youth leaders. During the demonstration thay had a grandstand view from the back of Olifant tank carrier, and afterwords a trip on the tank, ending with the trommel driving onto the carrier. They then each got a few shots with an R4 and an LMG.
One day in January there were a information session in the mess, when we were informed that National Service were shortened to one year, and we being in the transition phase would be klaaring out end of July, after 18 months in the army. The guys from the August intake after us would be klaaring out in November, after 15 months. It seemed a bit unfair, but we didn't complain.
It was during a day in town in the beginning of Frebruary that I saw in an old Sunday newspaper that Nelson Mandela would be freed and the ANC unbanned. There was at no time any attempt by anyone to inform us about that happening, considering that at that stage our chief enemy was the ANC. Most of what I knew about that time was what I read after National Service was over.
It must have been about that time that I joined the Koffiekroeg (Coffee Bar). When I walked past the window I saw that they had a few bookcases full of books. Instant magnet, and I went to a meeting just to look at the books. It was fun, meeting guys from the other subunits, because normally we didn't mix at all. There even were some of the Cape Corps troops there. Standard issue dartboard, the first time I learned to play darts, an urn and as much coffee we could drink. It was much calmer, neater and nicer than the noise of the bungalow. There were normally about 20 guys there. I ended up spending a lot of time there.
The corporal in charge of the koffiekroeg was a guy (Nickie) on voluntary extended National service. I didn't know about it before, and also couldn't believe that anyone would be that stupid. He grew up in an orphanage, funnily enough with one of our gunner no 1's.
The PF chaplain was an oldish man, having been with the unit for quite a few years. The junior chaplain was a Lieutenant, Afrikaans speaking, from an English Baptist church. He was a nice soft sort of a chap, having an equally nice fiance who moved to Walvis to be with him during his National service. They got married shortly after klaaring out.
I don't know whose bright idea it was, but all the nice books were packed and sent back to Pretoria. The only books allowed to remain were those with a religious theme. They sometimes seemed to think that just because they have given their hearts to Jesus their brains have to follow too.
Independence Day in Namibia was 21 March 1990. I even bought a few T-shirts in Walvis to commemorate it. The commandant gave us a full four weeks leave during March, the two weeks leave, 4 days travel (we all were far enough from home to qualify for maximum), and the rest just because he was very nice, but mostly to make sure for political reasons that there were no South African troops in Walvis that time.
There were a few Safair aeroplanes taking everyone back. Cape Town was first in a C130, I do believe there were aeroplanes going to Bloemfontein and Durban, but I can't remember. We flew to Waterkloof with a Boeing 707, where my parents picked me up that night. And then a month of bliss.
The army magazine Paratus did an article about 61 Mech. They took pictures of all the equipment deployed in the desert. We saw the photographs, there were some beautiful ones. We could order pictures, and even had to pay up front. Of course nothing came of it. At least they gave us our money back. The article in Paratus was a waste. Only one picture of an Olifant standing still, and one of a sapper working on the new canteen. That work stopped shorty afterwards and was never completed.
We flew back in the same 707. The aircraft were overcrowded. Johnson, one of our chefs, turned up drunk, insulted the stewardess when he couldn't get a seat, and only arrived a week later with another flight. Fortunately for him he didn't get into any trouble.
One of the Bombardiers, we called him Kaloepie, drove back to Walvis in a Land Rover, with the aim to have a Safari through the Caprivi and Botswana after he klaared out. One of the other Bdr's also had a car, and oldish Toyota I think, used to transport the junior leader to Walvis to get drunk. We had an encounter at the main gate with officers coming back drunk.
During the leave the first reports came through of the political violence in KwaZulu. It seemed to be rather messy. When we landed in Rooikop, Sierra Bty were volunteered to stay behind and load the 707 with ammo and equipment. It was the first we heard that parts of 61 were also moving down. As a political move, elements of 61 were sent to KwaZulu, so that the government could say, look, we sent our chief operational unit down. A and B companies went, also with some of the support groups of the gunners. I stayed in Walvis, why, I don't know since my OP officer was sent down. The gunners who went were put in with the infantry, having a difficult time.
The new C squadron troops arrived as well. They had a sergeant major Sakkie de Beer. One of the tank no 1's also came to the coffebar. He was Mike Smuts, last time I heard of him he was a spokesman for the University of Pretoria. His father was a dominee, he wanted to become one, and if he started to pray he could carry on for a hell of a long time.
Then started the rounds of korvee and guard duty. One week us, next week C sqdrn. On and on and on. Sometimes things were confused and then there was guard and korvee at the same time and that had to be sorted out since there were not enough people. Meanwhile all the normal work and cleaning had to be carried out as well. Meanwhile we started to reorganize the guard shifts. From 2 hours on, 4 off we went to a 4 hours on 8 off. It felt worse but at least we could do things.
I normally elected to stand guard at the main gate. There were not that many people anxious to be there, so I could choose my times, and there were lights, which means I could read during my shift. I know we were not allowed to read, but I did anyway.
One day I had to stand guard at the magazine. During the shift I was so bored I started to wander around. It must have been during the weekend since there was nobody at the offices. The little houses were all locked, but there were sandbag bunkers with the rounded tin roofs. In there there were all sorts of weird hollow charges, some ammunition. I even opened a box full of Sam-7 missiles. The box were still marked with Russian letters.
Earlier we loaded a few kwevoels full of outdated and strange ammunition. Why we had to do it I don't know, the sergeant major probably volunteered us. The sappers took it away and they destroyed it all in the desert. We weren't even allowed to watch. We just saw the big plume of dust and smoke.
There were also a few other guard places. In the military base in town we went a few times. Only the MP's had a few people there, and the military hospital was there, just a few temporary buildings. Further it was empty. There wasn't a naval presence anymore.
One night we went to the bunker next to the Rooikop Walvis road. It was a heap of sand. The guards sleeping area was at the main gate. We had to walk along a long tunnel into the bunker, and rang the bells for the guard to open the door. He had a little armoured glass window. It was quite funny because you could hear someone walking in the tunnel from a long way off. Next to the door there was a shower for nuclear and chemical warfare, where you could shower if you were contaminated. The door was very thick, and could only be opened elctrically. How far down the bunker went, I don't know. We were only allowed in the guard area. The rumour was an exaggerated 7 stories, but I don't believe that. The guard duty was only during the night. There were people working there during daytime.
Next to the Northern gate was the signallers encampment. It was off limits. I went there once with van Dyck. They had a steel roof with a few containers underneath, and a few very long antennas. They did eat out of our kitchen, but we didn't know how many were there. Once there was a black guy in the coffeebar, he was an Ovambo, and could speak quite a lot of languges. Quite a few others were Portuguese speakers.
It was about that time we started working on the 61 Mech memorial next to the entrance road. The granite we got from a quarry, South of the Walvis road. Lt Swanepeol was in charge. Van Staden, Britz, me, two sappers, and a medic. The base was the Castle, with granite walls build up to about knee height. The granite obelisk was glued to the middle. I'm sad to say it wasn't finished when we left. The sappers dug two holes for palm trees in front. They only got to about knee depth when they hit hard surface. The rest of the holes were dug by the builder's machine.
On the left of the main road we build a wall of granite boulders. The kwevoels brought in a lot of sand from south of Walvis, and the grass from somewhere. L/Bdr Hendricks made it his baby. He spent hours watering the grass to make sure it grew.
The new messes and bungalows were almost finished by the time we left. The new kitchen's structure was put up, but the walls and the floor were not even started. I borrowed a wheelbarrow and stole some bricks and gravel and buildt a new soakpit in front of the kitchen back door. It looked better afterwards.
The main chef was an AOII from the Cape Corps. He was quite nice. We had all sorts of liberties in the kitchen on korvee, making food for ourselves. One morning before six we raided a few hotboxes full of bacon and eggs standing there. He was very upset because it was for something special. A few of the officers also came through the kitchen that morning, so we just blamed them.
I once helped van Dyk in the officers' mess. It was on a little hill to the South of the base. The officers had a bar there. In the beginning the NCO's had a mess just to the south, but that became the Lance corporals' and bombardiers' mess, and the NCO's joined the officers. Quite upmarket, with tablecloths and everything.
It must have been about the middle of July that the guys from Kwazulu started to come back. They were all given the little 61 Mech knife to show they have been operational. We were quite jealous. They had some hair-raising experieces, if we could believe them. One of the guys had been shot in the leg during a raid on a hostel. Gert was sititng on a Casspir when he was almost decapitated by a wire spanned across the road just for that. They picked up a lot of dead bodies. Breaking up bands of troublemakers with shock grenades and teargas. I was also told that there were interrogations inside Casspirs by the Zulu speaking troops that turned out to be very illegal.
We had our passing out parade the Friday before we left. Of course there were almost no parents there, being a bit out of the way. Cmdnt Muller congratulated us, on being the first 61 group ever that didn't have a single casualty. At the end of the parade all the other sub units threw up their berets, cheered and walked into the base. We were formed up by Crafford and marched back to Bty HQ. The other troops went for the kitchen and raided it. Some called the AOII a kaffer when he tried to stop them. Big trouble, there was a identification parade in front of Battalion HQ, the sergeant major picked out a few culprits and they were charged. Later that afternoon there were major opfoks ordered by the commandant. We just had a nice run to the Walvis road and back, because we weren't involved.
The kitchen was locked, and we were issued with rat packs for the remaining time. We had to empty the bungalow for the roofies, and moved into the hanger. There was trouble about that as well. Lt Conradie made us empty all the dustbins and salvage out all the equipment that the guys threw out. There were everything from rifle magazines to pikstelle and webbing.
Our guns were handed back, just disassembled. The tiffie assembled it to make sure everything is there, checked the number, and we were free. I never shot that gun, or even took the sights apart to clean it. I feel sorry for the guy that got it after me.
My min dae calender.
The last things we handed back were our sleeping bags, just before we left the base. I flew back on the Monday, I think we were the last to leave. Durban and Cape Town left the weekend. First we were going to fly with the 707 again, but there was trouble and they sent two C130's. Everybody was upset, because the second flight would only be a few hours later, and they were looking for volunteers. I was from Bronkhorstspruit, so qualified for the first one. It was only then that I learned the Met TA Claassen, who was sitting next to me was also from BHS. The guys from Pretoria were put on later flight, because they were closer to Waterkloof. My parents picked me up at Waterkloof. As usual they were unable to tell them what time we were arriving, and that there was trouble. They were just about to leave when my flight came in.
I didn't keep contact with anyone. Marais I saw once after the army. I saw two of the junior leaders afterwards, just greeting them, one pushing a babycarriage. The "Klein groen mannetjie" I saw at a cadet competition a year or two later. Sergeant Major Crafford I read about in the newspaper, he was the sergeant major at 4 Art Reg training the first black mortar battery for the Paratroops. I saw him also at a Defence exposition in '98, explaining the G5 for visitors. He was a captain then.
As for me, I went from bad to worse. I didn't do a single camp. Got a letter at university and applied for exemption, and got it. I was supposed to be in the Transvaalse Staatsartillerie. In 1996 I was informed that the regiment would be changing from G5's to the Bateleur. There also would be a two-week exercise in Lohatla. The entire Citizen force system collapsed from then on. I am still at the same adress, but haven't received a letter from them since.
Did I enjoy it? It is difficult to say. Like all troops I just waited to get it over with. I did learn a lot, we had some fun times. I can even say I enjoyed it much more than school. My biggest regret was that I didn't go to the Border. I had the right training, was in the right units, but just too late.
A Leave Certificate
My one and only call up instruction to my Citizen Force Regiment.
The remnants of a rat pack. I brought it out a while ago and the back tin was of meatballs and spaghetti, having rusted through, and the meat balls like marbles. I don't know whether the date on the box is the packaging date or the expiry date, but knowing the army probably the expiry date, and I got this ratpack in July 1990.
Published: 7 May 2005.
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