1SAI (SADF), 4 SAI (1987/88)
EDITOR's NOTE: I interviewed Dale on 29 November 2005 and he was happy for me to tape record our interview with a view for publication. He's not replied to me several times this year, but I am going ahead and publishing his material anyway, even though I would have preferred to have polished it some more in collaboration with him.
I was one of the last intakes to do two years. The four guys that I was with - one was a qualified spark. Jaco and I both became sparks as well - electricians. He went to Escom, and he used to tell us that he was on full pay while he did his national service. You kick yourself; why didn't I study first, and then do this army bit afterwards? You had to be organized. You had to know somebody, or be in line to get a job, because they didn't want to take the guys that age unless they had done national service. Having said that, I had about two and a half years knocked off my trade. I was able to go and do my first trade test after two and a half years. That means you lost two years on your trade, whereas other guys had to do four and a half years before they were allowed to go and write their first trade tests.
Basics at 1 SAI. 4 SAI Middelburg was often referred to as 62 Bn, but it was 4 SAI.
[Was this at 1 SAI or Oshivello?] They built our whole company there at the base. It was a new company - Alpha Company. It was Alpha, Bravo and Charlie. When we went up in 19**, that was going to be the first time they had the third company there. We had two platoons of mortars that were joined on to our company. One was meant for Bravo and one was meant for us. The two rows of tents were set up there with us. They got them new.
Those guys were good. They knew their story. They could shoot those things. They were accurate. They used to practice the base. Their commandant would want them to put them [mortar bombs?] in the holes. We wasn't happy until they started putting the bombs into the trenches. They could drop them knowing that they could drop them into trenches.
The training we did for a year was intense. When I thought about it afterwards, how much we went through and what they did with us; it felt abnormal. I'm sure they knew [what they were doing]. They were actually preparing us for something was coming. They were getting us ready. This was conventional warfare against the FAPLAs, the Cubans and there were Russian advisors. When we started, the Cubans didn't fight with them. They came into it towards the end of what we were doing.
We were never actually issued step outs.
I did JLs at first. That's where I trained at the gym. The spes guys. We got up to two [specialisms?]. The one dealt with the vehicles and stuff, and you became a corporal. On the other you became a platoon sergeant. You had the Looties on the other side. One dealt with the conventional warfare side of it, and the other dealt with the upkeep of the vehicles. We did a specialised course on the Ratels and all the trucks and everything. I had about 9 lisences, for all the different vehicles. Then we did all the normal things; signals and rifles etc. It was all included. We did that in the 9 months, but I got kicked off at the end. The three guys that I was with; Jaco, Johan Koekemoer, and Johan De Klerk - it was just the four of us. They told us that if you did the vasbyt that you had basically made it through the course. I think they ended up with too many guys, because it got to the last day, and they kicked us off. They just said; `That's it. You guys are finished. Off you go. Return to base!'
That destroys you. There had been a few guys that I had carried through - I had had to walk with them. One guy had a medical problem and he had been off. Once you went in to hospital, they would return you to base straight away when you got back. But the other three of us didn't know it was coming. They just turned around to us and said; `Off you go. We don't need you now.'
We ended up together. When we got up to 61 they put us with the logistics. We started off with that, and it was quite boring. We were just driving around in these trucks. The Staff [-Sergeant] we had was quite good. When he realised where we had come from, we jacked up all the trucks and everything. We got everything loaded up for him. Then he realised; `Hang on a minute. These guys are doing my job.' He didn't have to do anything. He just sat back, and enjoyed it. Every time he came along when we were going out; there we were; Ready to roll. Everything jacked up. We were sorted.
The major came out the one day, and we knew that he was having problems. The guys that were staying there were stealing his chow. You only got ratpacks, and they were stealing his ratpacks. They were giving him a hard time.
One day he called all the guys together. He said: `I'm looking for a new crew. I want four guys to come and help me. I'm sick of these guys.'
I think that was on the Friday. We sat and we spoke about it for the whole weekend. `What can we do?' Actually, its quite a good idea. There were a lot more pros to it than cons. We stuck our heads together. We had done all the training; we had all done signals, we had all done gunnery, we had done all the courses for driving - so any of us could drive the vehicle. Any of us could take over and do signals if one was out. We discussed it, and we went up to his tent on the Sunday night, and we told him; `Right. We want to do the job for you.'
He looked at us. He thought we were joking. We told him; `No. We've done the courses. We've done everything. We're qualified for it, and we want to do it.'
He took us on. He said; `All right.'
On the Monday we were going out. We asked him; `Can we take over, and prep the Ratels.'
He said; `Ja. For sure!'
First thing that we did was to go to the kitchen
END OF TAPE
A fire in the back of the ratel to make coffee - Major investigating this
Ordering food and supplies on behalf of the major and with his tacit approval
[My brother ...] I said that I probably wouldn't see him again because he was up there, but I would keep my eyes open. And the next day the major walked in and said; `We've got an Ops up at Ondangwa Base.' We were going to be based in the base. There were two floppies driving around with a cannon on their bicycle and they were busy revving the base. We were going to go up with the Ratels and try and chase these floppies and try and catch them while they were at it. But being based with 10, he said that we'd be based actually in the camp. I thought; `That's great!' Now I can get to see my brother there.' I could kill two birds with one stone.
It was lucky. When we got there and we went in, I asked one of the lads at the gate - it was Eddie Eksteen's son - he was my brother's best mate in the Air Force there. I asked him; `Do you know Gary L-? I'm looking for him.'
He said; `Ja. Ja. I'll take you to him now.' I met him there then, and I told him where we were based. They were just parking us in the actual base. We had all the radios, so we had all the links with the Air Force and the Parras, and all that. We were linking around when we would go out on an Ops. He would come around and visit me.
We were there for three or four weeks. I got a letter from home saying that my brother was getting married on the 5th September. We got together, and we thought; `We won't get out of this lot.' I had a feeling that we were going up. I told him; `There's no chance [that I'll be able to come to your wedding].' Our minister had been writing letters and asking to see if we couldn't come down. He said the same thing. He was doing a six-month stint. He was up there now, and he didn't think they would let him off for it. We decided to have our own little wedding reception. I took him out for a meal one night, and I gave him ratpacks and told him; `This is how we live.' I showed him. He said; `No. This is awful.' He said; `I'll take you to the Air Force mess.' They ate like kings. We had a meal, and we went to the pub, and it got to 11 or something. I said to him; `The bar is probably going to close.' He said; `No, as long as we are standing here, this guy will serve us. If it's the whole night, he will serve us. Just stay standing. Don't fall over. The minute that you fall over, we're out.' They came in and dragged him out at about 2 or 3 in the morning. I had to get back to the Ratel, and they came and dragged me out. They put him on a jeep and took him out to one of the towers, sat him up in one of the towers. I don't know how he did it. I can remember he had a serious hang over the next day when I saw him.
We did an Ops [At Eenhana] with a mortar group. We weren't allowed to go in. We took a couple of 20mm cannons. We had to wait for the president's orders before we were allowed to cross the border with the Ratels, which is Standard Operating Procedure. We waited and waited and waited and waited, and eventually they gave us the go-ahead. We went in, and we were going to do three nights. They gave us enough bombs to supposedly last three nights. We were allowed to use all our mortars. We had the 81s with the Ratels, the 60mils and the 120s as well, and we took them in.
That first night the Pumas came in. It was at sunset that we were pulling out. They took off on the sunset. It was amazing. If you knew what the sunsets were like there, you can probably imagine it. The dust they kicked up went across the sunset like that, and they were lifting up and taking off. That was really good. I enjoyed that.
They/we went across and we shot everything out the first night that we were supposed to have for three nights, and the next day they had to bring up trucks with bombs for the next two nights. They got radio transmissions saying that it was Mirages and all sorts coming over, with the 120mm, because they always had rockets on them.
This was not on Modular - I think it was in July 1987. I worked with 61 Mech. We had to liaise with the bases when we came up for the ops. I was the signalman, and you get to hear all the radio operation codes for all the different bases; who was working where. Stuff like that. Whenever we went into an area, we would go in and register with the base, and tell them that we would be working there. Then we would go and pick up food and supplies; restock yourself while you are in the base.
We did com-ops with the PBs. We went to an old police base; it was wrecked. We went up there and camped out, and we would go out and talk to all the chiefs, without magazines in our rifles. We used to go and fix up their fences that some of the trucks had gone through. We would go up in the Ratels and pull trees out for them. We would sort things out for them, so that they would think; `They're not that bad!'
And every night we would have these terrs walking around our police station. We had our night-sights on, looking at them. We would try and pick them up. There were these big baobab trees. It was weird - we had all the white sand, and we had the big embankments around the police station. The guys were sleeping in trenches down below. It was raining - we were there in the rainy season. You would lie with your head up out of the sand. You would wake up every morning covered in water. We could watch the guys through the night-sights running between the trees. We could never catch them; that was as close as we ever got to them.
In a kwe 100, I was sat there because we were waiting that night to go in. We were stretched out, and the next thing I heard was the trees going. I looked up, and here was the whole herd of elephants coming through the bush. I scheme; `No. I think this is the wrong spot to be on.' It was awesome.
I got lost the one day, as well. I went out hunting. We got seriously hungry up there. I went out there one morning by myself, and I was going to go and do a bit of shooting. We had a track where a fire had been - this [CHANGE TAPE] ... `Monkey Apples' a big hard-shelled fruit. We used to break them open and they would be full of juice, but it was also full of little hairy pips. You could drink the juice and then suck on the pips. I was walking around and it was getting dark. I had my zippo on me, and just my rifle, and just my rifle and ?the gear. I thought I would make a fire, and set up camp. I was setting up, and I saw a little buck come out. `Right. There's dinner!'
So I start bekruiping this thing, and I'm getting closer, and every time I get to the point where I'm going to whack it, it would take two or three steps further away. I would have to start again, and I would get closer. The sun was getting really low, and I came over the rise, and there was the camp with my guys. I was chasing the buck into where the guys were.
We grew up hunting. One day we had two roofies with us. I cut down the first two rounds of my R4 - my own design - I cut the top off, and had it so that it would just be lead on the front with a copper jacket. That was for hunting - not for contact. So that we could eat first! I timed it well. The two roofies were carrying food and water for us. Now we were sorted! We had one guy up front, tracking, and I was showing him what to look for. We got to a bush and we picked up tracks, and we came back into one of these clearings. We were following it, and it got to about lunchtime. We tracked this thing for a good two or three hours. The guys were tired. `We've had enough. We're going to sit down.' So we walked to the biggest tree in the middle of this clearing. We were all sat down, having our smokes. We looked up and there was the buck coming around the tree next to us. You get up to go for your rifle, and this buck up and bolted. We had these four guys running down this buck through the bush.
It was in 1988 when they went back to Ruacana side - the Cubans were trying to force us down - that was all political. I still think that was a crock of nonsense. We whipped their arses good and proper.
At Ruacana, we would swim. Someone with an R4 would sit up and wait. The guys would run in and dive. We would say; `Don't worry about the crocks. We're watching.'
Ruacana was quiet. Most of the SWAPO action was around Oshakati and Ondangwa.
WITH 32BN ON OPERATION HOOPER
When I drove up, it took nine days from 32 Bn - I was taken out of 61 a couple of nights before - we had been at Witteshoek(?) - and then we had gone back because they said that we were not prepared for when they were going to go into it seriously. They came in the Sunday night, and asked who wanted to take some vehicles up to HQ. I thought; `Oh, cool! This is something to do. I won't just sit around.' All right, I'll take the trucks up.
When I got up, they said; `We need you guys. Now you're going in.' I was just taken off and I went in with them. I left the Sunday night, got there on the Monday morning. We went to Rundu airport, and from there they said; `Go to the store. Get some gear. Get some rats - anything you want.' I was arguing with them because I was with the major; I was the major's signalman. `I can't go in. The guys are going to need me. I'll end up in shit if I don't get back to him.' There was no chance. He said: `Go and get your gear. You are going up. We need you.'
It was a small group of us that went up. It was in the middle of August. They sent up the first group, and then they sent us up. We went up with a bunch of G5s and MRLs, and we took a load of ammo.' We got to the side of Mavinga, and we camped out there. They all disappeared on us, and there were about three of four of us left, the one morning. We ended up staying there for two or three days.
We had driven for three or four days up into Angola, and we came up a little hill, and the guys said; `This is the first time you will have to use 4x4, or 6x6.' He said; `Get ready.' And as we came up this little hill, we looked left, and there was the runway. Coming round there were these little buildings, and you had to sign and go through a road block. On the right was the South Africa flag and the UNITA flag, in the middle of Angola. And I still found that amazing! Here's the runway and buildings. You couldn't see it until you came up this little rise, and then we went through the little sign-on thing. There was a bridge, and I was about half way across before I realised that I was actually on a pontoon bridge. It had all this green algae growing over it. That was the first time that we got to a river that had clean water in it; where we could stock up and drink, and bath. We pulled across and we camped up. The guys got out and they said; `Right. You can have a swim, and wash up.' It was ice-cold, because it was covered in this green algae - when you dived in at the side it was crystal clear underneath, and ice cold. It was beautiful!
We got lost, and Sergeant Major `Krokodil' Koos comes walking around there - he looked like a cowboy. He had this big camouflage hat on, and this radio hanging down at his side, and he had this mean limp from where he had been bitten by this crocodile in the river. He came walking around, and he said: `What are you boys still doing here?'
We had been there for about three days and we were busy running out of rats and water. We didn't know where they had gone. They had gone across the river just to the other side and they had started a whole base up there. We started up the base where the Mavinga Base was originally.
I came down on my birthday to see if I could get my hands on some beers, to have a bit of a party, and it was like a base. They had these poles up and fences running around, and signs; `Tiffies this way' etc. I couldn't believe it. When we first got there, there was nothing. A couple of those UNITA ?hutches that stick up above the ground, and that was it. When I got back it was a major base already.
When we got up to near Mavinga, just up the river there was an open shona there. We were there quite early. No one was supposed to know that we were there. The guys drove up to go around to where the airport is. They had an ammo truck, and they were having a smoke going across the shona, and he threw his cig out the back, and it landed on the cammo net, and the ammo started going off in the back as he was crossing this shona, and his truck was burning up. And they weren't supposed to know that we were there! Eventually the whole thing was exploding, and the guys were jumped out and running, and just left it in the middle of the shona. It was a South African truck. `No, we're not there!'
I was only there for two or three nights. We went around to the airport, and we pulled our trucks in at the top, and we were sat there, talking to this bunch of UNITA guys there with us. I call it the international language of talking; there's only two things that you can talk about, and that's coca-cola and fucking, because that's the only things that they will understand. We get on to talking about MiGs, and they go, `No no no MiGs. MiGs up there. North. MiGs that way.' Okay, we're cool, okay.' We slept just to the side of the runway. It was the first time that I had seen it. They just put their great coats, just wrap it around them, and they just fell asleep around the fire. Us South African guys all had our sleeping bags, and all our kit, but they would just literally crawl around the fire. The next morning the MiGs raided the airport, and bombed the runway. That's the last time we'll believe these guys, telling us that the MiGs are up North.
They used to have Dakotas coming in there to give the UNITAs medical supplies, and they were quite a constant. And then with us they had the Hercules coming in, and they were a lot bigger. The UNITAs used to have this little radio at the end of the runway, and you could hear it crackling away. The guys would come in and you would hear them say; `They're coming in to land.' And they would just drop [aircraft anti-missile descent]- you remember how they would just drop from high, and they would curl around, and at that last bend, you would see the lights come on, and they would hit the runway like that. It must have been the second or third night because these guys didn't know what was happening. We had stopped the truck there and one of those old Dakotas came and missed it landing - it came in over our heads, and came around again and landed, dropped off all the stuff for the UNITAs, and then left. I heard the guys talking to the UNITAs - they were young guys. I hadn't seen it before. He said; `You guys must get ready. The plane's coming just now.' `Ja, all right. All right!' They're shouting down the line. I hear them shout; `Right. The Plane's coming', and you hear the thing crackle. Next thing you see this Hercules turn, and the lights come on, and you see all the little paraffin tins light up down the runway, and all these little guys running next to the runway, and they sit next to the runway. And the next thing, when the light comes on and the Hercules engine reverses, it comes down, and we just saw the lights move back. They just disappeared off into the bush. And on the radio you heard; `Waar die vok is daai oukies?' [Where the fuck are those guys?] He just swore - he was kakking them out. You check this guy running down the side of the runway, giving them a fat klap [smack]. They had to stand next to the runway. They hadn't checked a Hercules before. They got a moerse fright, and they just ran.
That's something you won't ever see again. Using a little paraffin tin to light up the runway.
61 came up a lot later. I was there for ages they came up. I went across to tell my mates. I told them; `I want to get back. I don't want to get stuck in with this lot.' We went to the Major and asked him. They had to group up on our Ratel, from it just having been four guys. They had to get another signalman in to replace me, and then they had to get another guy in to do the paperwork and everything, then we had a Lieutenant in to help, and then a dominee that had to ride with the Ratels - we were Ratel 10 Alpha. So there were six or seven guys in total already on the Ratel. He told me that I would have to stay where I was. They were full up already.
So I ended up just staying with 32. I had a crazy time. Nobody knew where I was. Nobody knew who I was. I had no clothes with me. I had taken my pack because I was going over night. I had my rugsak with me, my walkman, and just simple things - I had one spare pair of socks, and one change sort of thing, and that was that. The whole time I was there - and this is honest - I literally wore no socks, because my socks lasted exactly a week. Nothing else lasted. I was like Commando-style the whole three months or so I was there. My browns were ripped from here to here (?), so I was walking around with no browns on. It was quite weird. But nobody knew who I was, who I was with, or what I was doing there.
I was lucky. I moved around with them; with 32 Bn; their groups.
They brought in a bunch of 701 guys with us when we were up there. You get used to the nature up there in the bush. I used to make my sleeping bag up, and just sleep anywhere and everywhere. The 701 guys were all black guys. They would shoot the whole night. The next morning, the Sergeant Major `Krokodil Koos' calls us all out; `Line up. Line up!' He lines all the guys up. You check all these black guys in front of us with their R1s and stuff. `What's going on now?'
`Nee, die vokken ouens skiet kak uit ons uit.' [These guys have been shooting the shit out of us.]
He calls us and he says; `Kyk hierdie ouens herisou. Hulle dra almal die univorms.' We had all different uniforms, from brown to the FAPLA cammo, 32 and Koevoet. We just stood there, and it didn't look as though anyone was from any particular base.' That night they didn't shoot anyone.
We even had UNITA uniforms. When we were in ***?, we left 32. We said to them; `How does this work?' Lekker green. They had 50 round mags and everything. `How do we know when we are going to make contact?'
He says; `No worries. You see the little black taffies with their rifles. All you do is you stick your thumb up at them. If they do that back to you, then he's all right. Then he's UNITA. If he doesn't put his thumb back up at you, then you had better start shooting. Then he'll be FAPLA.'
Here we were on a truck going up into Angola, going `thumbs up' to all the blokes, waiting for them to show `thumbs up' back.
I turned 21 when I was there, and I think the other guys were telling how old they were. I think most of them were in their 40s. Being at that age they had been around - former FNLA - but they had been trained down in Durban with the Recces. They had done their years of stint, and now they were just helping out in the background. They weren't pushed into the foreground where the fighting was. They had a lot of experience. You would be walking along, and they would be behind you saying; `Watch out. Get your arse down now because the shit's going to hit the fan' and that sort of thing, which was helpful, because they did know what they were doing. It was good to have them around. I was wondering if you had to debrief them. They were quite a wild bunch.
Foxholes: - we had the one guy with us called `Rampach'. He was our medic. He was a dirty bastard. I know we got revved by a MiG, and he had shat himself. And the next day he was out digging this foxhole. You know what its like. You can see him there, and then the next thing all you can see is this sand come flying out of the hole, and he had disappeared. He dug this hole, and he couldn't get out. It was in the afternoon, and we were lying in the sun. We heard him calling. `What the hell is Rampach up to?' So we walked over and saw that he couldn't get out. It was soft sand, and he couldn't pull himself up the side. We had to build a wooden step across the bottom, so he could get out. He was the moer in with us. We ragged him about it.
He said that it was his hole, and no-one else was allowed to use it. When the Victor Victors came over, they always put it out over the radios. The radios were usually quite busy - there was all sorts of chatter going on. But as soon as the Air Force would come it, it was dead quiet.
The next morning early - you were lying there because it was still dark. The next thing these mirages are over your head and you shit yourself. We used to bolt up and then bolt for these holes. Rampach was last. Everybody else was in his hole. Rampach came running up; `Aw! You're in my hole!' There were a couple of times when we wouldn't let him in. We told him; `No. You can stay out there. We're in the hole now!'
He was a guy from Knysna - Rampach was his nickname. They were supposed to do three or four weeks, and then they would get pulled out. His replacement came, and they came to call him, and he ran away. He just ran into the bush. `I'm not going home.' I think he was an only child. When he got in there, he loved it so - he didn't want to bath. He didn't want to do anything. He just loved it. He literally loved the lifestyle that we were living. He loved it. Simple things that he should have been trying to do, he couldn't do, or he wouldn't do.
The one day I got stung by a scorpion. I was turning my sleeping bag inside out, because during the day we would hang them up. The thing nabbed me here on the elbow. It stung, hey! So Rampach runs for his bag. `Don't worry, Dale. I'll sort you out!' So he gets this syringe out. He rigs the whole thing up, gets the little bottle out, and he puts this plastic thing on, pulls the plastic coating off, and then ran his fingers down the needle. So I bolted. `Come back! Its just an injection!' You should have seen his fingers! They were black. And there he was pulling his fingers over the needle! `How can you pull your fingers over the needle? You can't inject me with that thing!' He was a nutcase. He was qualified - he had done the Ops. Medics course.
I take my hat off to all the Ops. Medics - except him! They knew their job. They were excellent.
I didn't keep in touch with any of the guys. I've had no contact with them since then. A lot of the guys that I was with were all the old - the black soldiers. I was in a group with a whole lot of them. When I came out, a lot of my friends had a different attitude. Maybe I grew up different. I was English, and we were allowed to play one-bounce and stuff with the blacks outside. I had a different attitude. I also fought side by side with black guys, and I slept beside them, and we had to guard each other through the night. They did a fantastic job. If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't have come out. They used to walk patrol every night, and we would be sitting there, playing cards. They would come in and say; `Keep quiet. Turn the lights out.' We'd argue, and we'd just play cards, and they would walk off and do patrol.
I made myself a bed there eventually, with cammo nets and stuff. I would doss like a baby. I had my R4 right next to me, but because I knew he was out there, I knew I was all right, and I would sleep fine. It was great fun.
There were a lot of guys who didn't want to sit in the back of a Ratel, who would prefer to be out. When we were there, 32 Battalion battled with that. They were used to fighting in a different way. They would form up, and then move in to an enemy camp, and take it on. But now that we were dealing with tanks that were dug in, they didn't understand what was going on. They wanted to get it over with within an hour; fight it out and then go back home again. They struggled with that.
You would never see the proper results. They would say that we had so many deaths. We didn't have that many deaths. We had tenfold the official figures, because they never counted the 32 Bn guys, and they never counted any of the black battalions, and they never counted UNITA. And we were all on one side. You can't really say if was a big fight; we only lost 3 and they lost 700. That was not the case. You would probably find that we lost 300 and they lost 700.
The G5s were amazing. At the beginning they used to bombard through the night. At sunset you would see that first rooi-oog going, and the whole bush would shake around. All right! Here it comes! And you could check it go out. They would shoot about every twenty minutes or so, or half an hour - and then you would see the second one go, and then when they got sighted, then you would hear the whole battery start. It would last the whole night. They would just pound these guys into the ground. If it wasn't for those G5 batteries that we would have had a hard time facing them, with those tanks and stuff. They pounded them into the ground. They made them scared. I don't think they wanted to get out of their trenches. And those MRLs - they were brilliant! The sound in the bush. In the Clive Holt book - how do you describe sitting through a day like that? You can just hear all these explosions, and things going on around you. You cannot tell a person what that sounds like.
It can push everything out of your brain; you can't even think straight - there's so much noise going on around you. Its awesome! The firepower - they can just pump round after round in those G5s and they just let rip. Eventually they were going day and night - they couldn't keep up the supply to keep those bombs being fired. It was really good.
We would either be on the side of them, protecting the group going in, or vice verse - you would be the ones going in. We were a small number of guys compared to what they had. That was the difference. You compared the number of guys you were facing, and the number of guys around you - it was crazy! We would sit and look from the other side of the shona.
It was grubby and it was dirty, but the guys worked hard. We were youngsters. We would spend days and nights awake. If I had been told; `I've been awake for so many days and so many nights', I would have said `Fuck off! That's impossible', but we had to do it. That's what you did. There wasn't a question of sleep, because when you could sleep, the flies were there, or you were in the heat. It was impossible to sleep. And then there would be other days when that is all you did.
We always had these R5 and R10 watches; I think mine was R10. My mom bought it for me. "Take this to the army. Its good enough to last, but its not cheap.' We used to swap these watches out; you would see these little UNITA lads walking along with three watches on their arms. It was probably the first time that they had ever had a watch, and you would have a T64 tank round. (Having swapped!)
My mate walked up to me in the deurgangskamp. He was carrying a T64 shell or something. He asked me: `Do you think they will notice this at the airport?'
They spread the rumour that we were not allowed to take anything back with us. When we got into the deurgangskamp, they turned around and said; `Its fine. As long as its not live ammunition or grenades and so on.' Our stuff was about five miles behind us, where we had stopped and everyone had chucked everything out.
My daughter still laughs at me because I smuggled a film out in a packet of cigarettes, and I had to open the carton, and take one of the packets out, and then open the back of the packet, slip it out, take some of the cigs out and put my film in, and then close it, and put the cellophane back over it, and stick it down a little bit, and put it back in the carton, close the carton. I brought my film out like that. I haven't got any funny stuff; its just me and my mates. They were quite serious about films.
I got two years exemption from camps because of what we did there. I got a special number. We got this little booklet when we got out to say that General Liebenberg had given us two years exemption because of the combat we had done; the four months or whatever we had done in Angola. So we were given two years exemption. I've still got that little thing somewhere. I kept it very nearby, just in case they called me up.
My wife and I met in high school. She went through this thing with me. I went through the army and she went through developing a career. We clashed like a big wave when I got out. We tried to build something on that when I got out.
I got this call up for a camp. It was in the first year, so I didn't have to do it. I was a bit pissed off about the exemption being given, and me then being called up for a camp. I phoned them at the base, and at that stage I think they had put us into 81 (or 82) Brigade. I spoke to the guy: `Look. I've got this card that says that I get two years exemption. For two years I don't have to do camps. And I'm not doing camps. So I'm going to pull my little number out, and you can piss off.' He said; `Read the whole letter. We need you for one day, to drive ratels from one side of Johannesburg to our Hammanskraal Base. What we're going to do is we'll give you an extra year. So that will go to the third year that you get exemption. For one day! Bargain!'
So I took the one-day camp. I went through and did this, and I met a couple of the guys who had been with me, and before me. One was an old school friend. It was a good day, to say the least. They made us a little office there in Silverton, Pretoria, and we ended up in the Palms Hotel around the corner and we drank it out - all R 20. We were all happy that we had done a camp in a day.
That was it for about 4 years, because when they did call us up, we did a month's camp at Lohatla. My wife had just fallen pregnant with my son. It came at a bad time, and I just couldn't handle it; the fact that they wanted to call me up again after all the shit we went through. When I got there, I was with a whole lot of guys from Hooper. We met up, and I knew quite a few of the guys who had been on Hooper with me.
We got talking and we stole a whole bunch of meat, legs of pork - one of these guys had to take a truck through to Uppington, and when he came back we scored all these legs, so we had a big braai that night. We got together and we were all sitting around the fire, and then we got to see that it was all the guys who had been in Modular and Hooper that they had called up for this camp. It was chaos! They guys were aggro! They didn't want to be there. They were; `Sod this! We've got other things to get on with. We don't want to go back there.' It was crap as well because they were giving us lectures and trying to tell us what to do; how to camouflage a Ratel. This young Loot was going to show us how to cammo a Ratel. `You can't be serious now, surely?' We've done this for real. We've actually had to hide, with people looking for us and shooting at us. We had to sit there in class and they were telling the guys how to cammo a Ratel 90, etc. One of our guys - a big fat bloke - I think he was one of the drivers of a Ratel 90. The Loot was saying that the Ratel 90 wasn't designed to shoot tanks. We were sat at the front there and this guy got up - he was just a troop. He took the Lieutenant by the arm; `You just sit here. Me and my mates are going to show how its done.' He started drawing on the board - the Ratels and stuff, and how we come in - `The tanks are there, and this is how we shoot - and then you pull back, and come in, and pull back ..' The Lootie was just sitting there with his face gob-smacked. `We've actually done it. We've shot tanks out. We know what we're talking about. Don't tell us you can't shoot tanks out with a Ratel 90'. The guys were aggro!
This was well after the pull-out from South West. The one major who was with us - we was a little bit older than us. We stopped on the road back to Bloemfontein with the Ratels. He had been with us for the month. He said to us; `How come you guys are so aggro? What's the matter?' We started telling him. All the guys were there [for Modular and Hooper!] . I think he was a bit gob-smacked because they told him it was just a mess-about. They were taking the piss out of us. We had gone through all this, and then this guy was trying to tell us how to cammo a Ratel - showing us things about R4 rifles; stuff we knew and could do in our sleep, that we were still doing in our sleep. We were so frustrated.
It was nice to meet all those guys. When I met them I knew a lot of what they were going through. I was going though it as well. It was quite cool.
That's one of the other camps they phoned me for - just before we left, they said; `You've got to come up for a camp.' It was to get a medal or something, because we had been up there. I just sent the thing back, saying `No thanks!'
I think there are different behavioural patterns. They do fade in time. It effects every decision you make in your life. A lot of it was just the adrenaline. You have to try and find things that will get you that high again - or not. You try and live a normal life. It affects everything you do. Every decision you make. I think, if I hadn't done it, it would have been a completely different decision.
There was a guy when we were training who was an apprentice. A big Dutchman. He kept saying to me; `I know you from somewhere.' I asked him where he was from.
`No, I'm from Pietersburg, hey.'
`I don't think I've ever been there.'
`I definitely know you.'
He came to me the one day, and he says; `I figured out where I met you. There was a police station up there on the border, and we were doing patrol the one day, and the wall from the main road that goes up to Ruacana. It took them about three days. One of our vehicles had got stuck in the mud, and I had come out with one of the Ratels to pull it out. These guys were in a six-man patrol, had stopped and they had started helping. We were together for about an hour, and he remembered me. We helped each other, because he had a patrol there. We pulled the vehicle out. He explained everything to us. `Ja, I can remember that.'
And he says; `And you're the guy who took us back to our base.
I said, `Ja', because he turned around to me and asked me; `We're six days out. We've walked for three days, but we have to walk three days back, and they're expecting us back. You can do me a big favour if you ride us back to about a k outside the base, and we can sleep there a night or two, and then just walk back in.' That's how we used to do it.
I said; `Ja, okay. I'll do it.' I picked them up and I took them all the way back to their base.
Army with a war: I think we were built up towards something. Even the guys who stayed back home; all the guys we met. When I was in Pretoria I had a lot of Portuguese friends. They all went to the Portuguese place where they did the signals, and they were used. When I was there, it was amazing how many of them were there. They all had a job to do. When my brother did it, he was in the MPs and he was in the middle of Ops. Protea. Of all the bunch of guys you could think of who would end up in the middle of Angola; and there they were. It was crazy. [Not sure I get the point here?]
[Someone I was working with in the UK] I met his brother first, quite a small guy, and I started talking to him. He was moving to Australia, and my wife's sister stays in Australia, so we had some common ground. We were talking about why he was going, and his brother came in. He was doing the boarding and I was doing the sparky work. We got talking, and he had been in the British Artillery, and he didn't have much good to say about. I told him about what I had done, and what I had seen our artillery guys were doing. He was quite knowledgeable about the SADF, and we compared notes.
Published: 26th December 2006.
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