Ops Medic (1991)
David did national service in 1991 when it had been reduced to one year initial training. After basics at SAMS College, he completed the Ops Medics Course, and then served at the Potchefstroom Military Base Hospital.
My Grandfather served in WW2 in the BEF in France and was evacuated prior to Dunkirk to the UK to work on Lancaster Bomber engines (he was already 30 by this time married and with my Father on his way, so he was not a prime candidate for frontline action).
My Father served in the British Army (Territorials) and was a corporal in an Infantry Platoon and specialised in Mortars.
My Older Brother was called up to 7 SAI in June 86 and later trained as an Ops Medic and then served with 101 BN in SWA and later with 7SAI in Alexandra Township.
At school we did Cadets every Friday, and had lectures on such things Saleer en Eerbewys, Musketry, and how to handle the Army. Some of our teachers had been Lts in the Intelligence Corp and would drill us and wear their uniforms to Cadets. This may have been part of their camp commitments. They had varying approaches too. At least one was very committed and Paraat, another, my history Teacher, was a bit of an old Hippy, he gave us some valuable advise though, always have your own Toilet Paper, it is like White Gold.
There was rarely a time when there was not someone, an older brother, and cousin friend, old school mate who was not under going some element of Military Service. It was what you did, after school or Varsity; you just went and did it. I had come across ECC members outside school, but they seemed to be lefty type students.
We signed up one Friday at school, all the guys who turned 16 that year were in the Hall and we filled out the documents.
We then received our call ups two years later, in Metric, after the dance and before exams started, a brown envelope telling us were we had to go. I got my choice. SAMSTC Vortrekkerhoogte, along with 3 of my class mates.
We received a booklet letting us know that we needed to do x Push Ups x Sit ups x Pull Ups and run 2.5 km in a limited time. In an effort to get fit I spent the month prior to reporting running each day to my Girlfriends house (2km) and back again in the evening. I was enjoying being 18 and free from school at last.
We Klaared in together at Nasrec Showgrounds. On 11 Jan 91. We were spilt up into groups of 30, searched, and loaded onto busses. There was the usual rond jag and shouting, but everyone was in high spirits and seemed excited about our adventure. On the bus I was nervous, and I made conversation with the CF corporal who was accompanying us. He too had gone to my school and we just chatted about shared acquaintances.
At the base we were greeted by RSM Robertson and spent many hours filling out paperwork. Immediately Graduates were moved away this included Doctors, Dentists, Social Workers etc. The rest of us, about 900 guys, with Matric or less, remained behind.
We then had a medical test, fairly straight forward, at the end of it a doctor asked us if anything was wrong, any outstanding medical issue. A guy called Serfontein, stepped up. His body was badly scarred, from an accident 3 yrs before (a lorry had driven over him whilst he rode a motorcycle) the Doctor said, "Right G5 you will go home tonight". Serfie ( as we came to know him) complained bitterly, even asking the Brigadier to reverse the decision. The Brig agreed making Serfie G3.
We were then taken back to our Bungalows, a strange name as they were actually 3 stories high, with a Platoon in each story.
The next day we had haircuts and received our kit and rifles. I was then moved over to C Company Platoon 3. My instructor was LCpl Maree. The Graduates were in Alpha Co and the G3/G4 and Jewish recruits were in Delta Co.
Basics started on 17 Jan 91, which was significant if you live in Iraq. Someone started a rumour we were going to Kuwait, the Colonel flipped when he heard that!
A typical day was like this:-
05:00 Roll Call
05:30 - 06:30 Breakfast
07:00 10:00 Parade and Drill
Saying Lectures sounds rather nice, they could take any form, from sitting around in a Bos Klass Kamer learning the dimensions of an R5 to being taught how to Leopard Crawl by going over and over the same piece of ground.
From 18:00 you had the opportunity to clean the bungalow and get ready for inspection. In reality it was a time when the NCOs had the chance to dish out any corrective PT, which they did. At 22:00 it was lights out, a strict rule laid down by the Colonel to save Electricity. Typically we would wake up at 02:00 or 03:00 to carry on preparing for the inspection. As it progressed we got better and toward the end 30 minutes was enough time to get it done.
Most people reading this would have some idea already what basic training entails, so I will leave out some nitty gritty.
One Highlight for me was the Kaartlees section of our bush phase. We were at the Shooting Range North of Warmbaths, we had been split into different sections, and the groups were taken to different activities, Shooting, Veld Kuns, Kaartlees etc and rotated from there.
We were presented with map, a stretcher, sandbag and pole (too approximate an injured colleague) and an NCO. We were given a RV and told to move in that direction. I was the only one who could read a map so I was all of a sudden the leader here. We walked in the direction of a small koppie and when we got to the top the NCO radioed in for confirmation and received the following RV. At each RV and at any time the NCO felt necessary another boulder was added to the stretcher. My section made it back to the base first. And as a treat the Captain (Cpt Bird) allowed us to swim in the river.
As Basics progressed I came around to the idea of doing the Ops Medics course. I had been hoping to have an easier life in the Army, and really to spend as much time at home as I could, but as we got on I found that I could cope with most of what they threw at me and my confidence grew so that at the end of basics, when they were handing out musterings I volunteered for the Ops Medic course.
I was then chased to the opposite end of the Parade Ground were I fell in with Sergeant Major Wall, a real character who had been in the Rhodesian Light Infantry.
Following the weekend pass at the end of basics we were then spilt up into two broad groups, Medical and Bush Phase. I was placed on the Medical Phase first. This was OK, as the Bush Phase guys moved off they were laid into by a Cpl Erasmus and the Sgt whose name I have forgotten. Medical Phase was supposed to be a bit more civilised, and it was. We were spilt into two further groups:- Hospitals and Class Room. I was in the Hospital Phase, and from there spilt again, into JHB and PTA. I was put into JHB hospital Group. Were given a few minutes to pack our stuff and climb on a Samil 50. 30 of us in all.
We arrived at Doornkop Military Base, which is opposite the prison, on the road between Mondeor and Soweto.
The buildings were also 3 story affairs, but looking more modern than VTHGTE. Although JHB is my hometown, the South is quite separate from the North and it was like a different country and certainly I was unaware that there was a military base in this location. We left the Samil and Treed aan.
The Sergeant was a strange looking chap with a pink shirt, jeans and an earring! His name was Barnard I later found out he had been my Brothers instructor, 5 years before. He was with a group of NCOs. All in civvies. We were given strict instructions not to call anyone Corporal, or Sergeant but Instructor, and we would in turn be called only by our surnames and not Troep! What a turnaround from Basics!! We would work in Civvies at all times. These had to be neat and reasonably presentable.
We were shown to the Bungalows (again three stories) they were trashed, a speciality of the instructors. We had a limited time to get them ship shape. Well you know the score, in driving rain we had to assemble a "motif" outside the building out of sand and rocks, clean the floors, make beds clear up trash etc etc. and stand inspection upon the hour. Inevitably it was declared SIF! And beds were turned out windows, clothes thrown out, kasse upended, Sgt Barnard's trick was to stand at the top of the stairs and throw a fluorescent light bulb, about 6 feet long, down to the bottom, following it with plates and cups from the officers mess. This went on all night, till suitably broken in, we were given the rundown of JHB hospitals.
We were spilt into groups of 10, and allocated a hospital per group. Hillbrow, Baragwanath, and JHB Gen. My group got Hillbrow Hospital. It was made plain to us why we were in civvies and why we had to use instructor not Corporal as these hospitals served mostly Black people and they would not be too impressed with the hated SADF letting loose recruits in the emergency wards. At some point we were let go of and got some sleep.
Our routine looked like this:
06:00 Inspection. (By far the most arduous, being in Hospital phase you were expected to have hospital-clean floors etc, also inspected was your Whites, a surgical top we wore whilst on duty, The night before you may have been elbow deep in blood but this thing better shine come 06:00. everything had to be identical, right down to the Brand of shaving cream used through out the Bungalow.)
06:30-07:30 Breakfast (We had to wear browns for this)
08:00-12:00 Lectures at JHB Gen Hospital back in civvies. Lectures covered such matters as intercostals drains, installing drips, suturing, all the stuff we got to do at night.
12:00-15:00 Trip back to base, lunch and free time.
15:00 -17:00 PT Back in Browns
18:00 Inspection, in Civvies, a repeat of the morning inspection only this time in Civvies but the same standards applied.
18:00 18:30 Dinner
19:00-06:00 Work at Hospital.
Yeah it looks tight and it was. In reality when we left with the instructors at 19:00 we would go to a cafe in Brixton. And get Burgers for 99c each. We would then talk in the minibus about what was happening and all about the city. I was the only native JoBurger in our group. The other guys sat bug eyed and stared at the Escort Agencies as we moved up Twist Street. One night we asked the instructor if he could stop off at a post box, as the guys had letters to send. He did so outside what was the Telkom HQ. Everyone handed their letters over to the guy nearest the door, a boerseun from the Karoo. He was too scared to step out the vehicle and walk 5 paces to the letter box. So I ended up doing it. I kept saying to the guys come on from here we can walk to loads of jols, but they wouldn't.
Hillbrow Hospital was dead centre of flatland. An old building it was crumbling in places. We were shown around the various places. Suturing, recovery etc. I ended up in Suturing that night, I saw how it was done from the instructor and I ended up doing about 5 in one night.
Mostly cuts and bruises from fights. And at least two prostitutes and a Pimp who carried on a fight in the waiting room whilst we stitched them up. At about 01:00 or 02:00 the steady stream of drunks and prostitutes dried up and we went back to base.
Over the next few nights we kept up the routine. We would also get to go into theatre and assist the surgeons with emergency cases. I saw a great deal, gun shot wounds, MVA, stabbings. I learnt a lot, but one thing occurred to me, these patients were all black, I felt little emotion towards them, we were at times rough. (one guy had to stitch a head wound on a lady. The idea is to shave around the wound, to clear any hair out of the way and use a fine type of suter, to leave the minimum of scarring, he shaved her whole head! Left her bald! How embarrassing, and just laughed at her when she complained!) In general we did not care.
Whilst doing National Service a lot of guys asked what it was all for. A Doctor was talking to us during a break in lectures. He explained how he was glad as a medical professional to see so many interested in the Ops Course. This was because we were learning life skills, that our friends in the Infantry etc would never learn. If one day we had to deal with a medical emergency, even in 10 years time, we would be able to handle ourselves.
After some time we rotated and we were moved to JHB Gen. This was a revelation compared to Hillbrow. Clean modern and white. Staffed with almost exclusively white nurses. I ended up working in the ICU unit. Looking after cases that were bedridden and needing 24/7 care. The nurses did everything and were mostly onlookers and occasionally we moved a patient around for a bed bath. So I do not think we learnt much there at all. Except how to keep everything clean!
The guys who worked at Bara had the most experience of all, a non-stop stream of knife wounds, MVAs, gunshots. One afternoon there was an attack on a train and over 30 casualties landed at Bara.
I cannot remember relaxing at all at JHB, there was no time, so much to learn and so much to do. I do remember a Dominee visiting us, and reminding us to keep our cool as we were dealing with the very dregs of society.
We stayed at JHB for I think two weeks before moving back to Pretoria. Once there we were informed that our small group of 10 was to move to Philadelphia Hospital, outside Grobblersdal. I was not too happy, more bundu-bashing under the eyes of a NCO, and back in Browns. The Hospital is set in large grounds with a large Wrought Iron Gate. The doctors who worked there had houses which lined a road, one of the houses was allocated to SAMS. We were shown to our rooms, one room in the house for 5 guys and a prefab ZoZo hut for the other 5. (with the Kaste [cupboards] and beds in here it was impossible for more than one guy at a time to move around) the telephone went through the hospital exchange and we had to book calls home for a set time. The NCOs had the rest of the house.
Life here was rather shabby, every morning was spent cleaning up Guavas from a tree outside, and raking the Volleyball Court into a chequered pattern.
The delivery suite was right next door to the house and we would hear the sound of women giving birth all night. We also ate in the nurses canteen, the food was a disgrace, Pap for every meal!
The feature of Philadelphia was that we got to see a child being born. I cannot say it was a great experience. We basically stood in the corner whilst a midwife helped the childbirth, I felt like I was intruding! I also saw a Caesarean Section and the post Mortem after the doctor botched it. (the doctors were polish, speaking English to nurse to interpret to the patient).
Most of our time was spent working the wards like Post Op, Pharmacy dishing out pills or even Poly Clinic weighing babies and taking their temperature. At nights we worked in the A&E dept (an optimistic title after Hillbrow, absolutely nothing happened and the remote location of many people and the lack of transport meant more dead bodies were bought in than anything else.) the area was poor and the hospital in poor condition, one thing stands out though, our Corporal taught a 3rd year med student how to suture, doing a lovely job on a chap who had a wound on his leg.
Here we did PT every day and I am glad to say our section set a record for running to the main gate (what was it with army bases and running to the main gate?)
After 2 weeks we also left Philadelphia and I was not sad to say goodbye!
Classroom or Theory Training
Once back at Pretoria, we swapped out with the guys who were going to Hospitals. These were guys we had done basics with and it was a case of renewing acquaintances. The bush phase guys carried on around us, waking us up at 04:00 as they ran past the Bungalow towards the Parade Ground for PT (more of this later). We received a whole bunch of new instructors, and almost everyday was spent in a classroom. Learning subjects like Pharmacology, Physiology, First Aid, and Primary Health (there may have been more subjects but I can not remember) each day ended at 16;00 and we were ostensibly off to study. There was no guard duty and going AWOL was as simple as waiting till dark and walking to the top gate and asking the guy on duty to let you out.
The College resembled a University with Graduate Doctors on a 6-week course to become officers and acting very laid back about it all.
The bar policy at SAMSTC was pretty liberal, no 2 beer a night limits, as explained by the NCO who ran the bar. The profits went back to the SAMSTC and the money was spent on mess improvements so if we could stand the pace of drinking with PF's we were welcome to drink as much as we could afford to. We also had a VTB room with video and pool table. And a VTB officer who was pretty beautiful, she would arrange evenings at the cinema at Centurion.
We also had Echo Co training with us. Young, female, MilDente who were studying such things as Occupational Therapy with the SAMS. They were pretty untouchable and not at all good looking. They regarded us troepe as "out of bounds" and could be quite sensitive as Cpl Bester found out when he called one a Whore. (Note to Cpl check when the lady you are referring to has a father who is a Brig!) S/MJR Wall took him for an afternoon on the parade ground with a Samil battery.
Whist on Course an accident happened with the Bush Phase trainees. Cpl Erasmus was showing them a Detonator from a Hand Grenade. He warned them not to hole the Det too tightly as it may explode with the body warmth from their hands. He demonstrated how NOT to hold a Detonator, and blew two of his fingers off!
We AWOLed at least once, to Jacqueline's in Pretoria. Whilst there one of the guys won a Karaoke competition, and with it a bottle of champagne.
Weekends were equally quiet, with time spent walking up to SAWI to buy food or making use of the liberal Church Pass on a Sunday to get home. One Sunday I snuck back in time to find an unusually Paraat NCO taking roll call outside the bungalow. Truth is I had spent that afternoon at Gold Reef City and had just managed to get a lift back in time. I marched smartly up and came to attention. I asked permission to join the squad. "Where have you come from ?"
"Oh that's OK"
I fell in at the back and it turned out no one was AWOL at that time. Lucky us.
The exams were straight forward, and I passed the course without too much hassle. Excluding a fistfight with a guy called Henshaw (after a night at the bar) and an oppie which followed I can not remember much of consequence.
Finally we ended this phase and now we had to go over to Bush Phase. This had been going on around us as we took it easy. Before the changeover occurred a group of Bush Phase guys attacked our bungalow. They were hyped up after their COIN training. They were led by a Cpl Beukeman. They basically stood outside and hurled insults at us till myself and one other went out there to take them on (pretty stupid only two of us went outside) I ended up wrestling in the mud with one guy, nothing serious, mostly horseplay. Till the Cpl pulled us apart.
For whatever reason this phase was greatly feared. It was basically Infantry COIN training and driver training.
It meant being placed with a hard arsed bunch of NCO's some of whom had earned their Bat Wings. But the worst of all was a Cpl Buekman. Whatever bee in his bonnet this guy had I will never know but he was Parraat! He would jog in from his quarters in VTHGTE at 04:00 each morning and take the company for PT. Of his own accord. This PT was fun to say the least. It would either be Waentjie PT (each platoon had a "Wagon" a large trailer with Samil Tyre, Drum, Pole and this had to be raced around the 4 corners of the Parade Grnd) or Bedram PT. Oh yes two guys carrying a Bed frame onto the parade ground do sit ups / push ups and general running around with the bed frame. All this about 1 hour before the bed had to be on Inspection. (that is till we found the QM stash of US bed frames.) He was a small Afrikaner and I doubt he was older than 20. He also had a mean streak in him for discipline and you did not want to be in his Platoon. Included in our deprivations was no more open policy at the bar. We would not want to anyway, you were kept too busy to drink!
Luckily I ended up with Cpl Bester and Van Deventer. Do not ask me why it was we needed two NCO's on this platoon. I think it was because between them these two could only just rustle up the brain power to think!
We started off nice enough with Driver Training. We had to pass our learners first. The standard test with Military procedures thrown in i.e. How many troepe in a Samil at one time etc. Then we were taken back to the shooting range for a few days shooting so those who knew how to shoot could get their Balkies. Not me I spent a whole bunch of time in the skiet put . The shooting range took up a few days of our time then we got into bush driving, literally driving Samils on dirt tracks. Of course with one instructor required per vehicle and a limited number of vehicles, it meant a great deal of waiting around for your chance to drive. Then we would be involved in Onderhoud (cleaning kitchens or Guard duty) or just being messed around with in general. One day we took a Samil with left overs from the kitchen to the municipal dump. Once there we were chased by people living on the dump, who ripped apart our rubbish looking for left over scraps. We felt guilty about leaving behind and throwing away perfectly good food when we saw how these people were starving.
On my turn to drive the instructor took me into Warmbaths in a Samil 50. We spent about an hour going around town till he saw a tennis court with some girls playing on it, he then had me drive around and around the block as he stared at these girls!
We had to rack up at least 40 hours, to do this would have been a logistical nightmare so they just made sure you could drive safely for an hour or so then racked it up as 3 hours. Those that really did badly were taken in hand and shown how.
We then went back to Voortrekkerhoogte, for more of the same, waiting around whilst they took guys out and we did training. I can remember sitting in the bungalow listening to Creedence Clearwater Revival, over and over again. Or we would be cleaning vehicles for Staal Paraade
My first experience in a Mfezi was intimidating. The controls are much as a Samil 50. But it weighs 18 tonnes. Cpl Beukeman took me out first to the AFB to refuel. All the while he is shitting on me in general. Then we went out, into the suburbs of Pretoria.
He grabbed my left ear and screamed "DRA JY 'N OORBEL?" [Are you wearing an ear-ring?] I was petrified he had me by the ear and was screaming , to my soutie ears, "Do you wear an ear bell?" It took me seconds to register what he said, he had noticed the scar I had from my ear being pierced at 14, but goodness I had let it grow over. "NEE KORPORAAL" I shouted in my best Military fashion. He then yanked harder and asked if I was a Moffie, continuing to berate me and yank on my ear whilst I desperately held onto the steering wheel!
Eventually he let go, but I was left shaken by this so much so that I missed a red robot and shot through, during peak hour traffic, at about 60kmh in an 18 tonne armour plated vehicle! narrowly missing a tannie [`Auntie'] approaching from the left.
This would have been the unit's 2nd accident in a week. The Cpl very quietly told me to stop and get out, I thought he was going to beat me!
He then climbed in the drivers seat, and told me to run behind, before slamming the door shut. So run behind I did, about 2 KM, along a main rd. At the top of the road, he stopped and I climbed back in. I then drove back to the base, very quietly, no-one mentioned a thing after that.
At the end of the month we received our licences. We had a test with an elderly WO1. He berated us for not being able to drive properly and being "bang for the vehicles. He was a patient professional guy who gave us another chance and showed us how to drive properly.
This is what it was supposed to be about. Becoming a soldier. We did all the Veldkuns stuff from basics. Camouflage etc. Only possibly in more depth. After a short time learning the theory we went to Walmanstaal, north of Pretoria, to put it into practice. The area was vast and quite pretty in a bushveld way. Our time was then spent living, as we should do whilst on operations, sleeping inTB's etc. Each day we would walk a distance, in patrol formation to a designated spot. Were we would receive more instruction. Stuff like Vuur en Beweging. [Fire and Movement]. All the while we would be subject to harassment from the NCOs. This could include being physically attacked whilst we walked around. (Or in one case actually surprising the attacking force as they got into position for us) Sometimes the place we walked to would just be an hours PT. Or maybe an oppie for some misdemeanour
On our first night we were joined by some guys from 2SSB in Zeerust. They had been Smarties earlier and had returned to us for Bush Phase as I believe they had missed this training at Zeerust. On that first night we walked about 16kms, being chased all the while. These guys from Zeerust started dropping like flies. They were really unfit. And not happy that the SAMS TC they knew from Smartie days had suddenly got all serious!
At night we would set up TB's only to be "attacked" by NCOs at all hours. Then we had to get all our kit back together and move on to a new position were we could not be attacked from.
That was our day really, we spent it blacked up in Cammo. But we were never supplied Black is Beautiful. Instead guys had bits of charcoal, or they just took the carbon from inside the Samil exhaust. I will admit that it was physically demanding, and mentally taxing as you were supposed to carry on as if this was an operational area. You were also evaluated on how you behaved, how you handled it, no-one went mad or anything, but it must be said that we were all volunteers on this course.
Included was a bit on Urban COIN, and there were some old buildings here (houses) which served as a township street.
On the last night the Major organised a braai. He took money off each guy and went to a wholesaler nearby. He bought back 4 beers each. He must have made a profit for himself, he also sold home made Biltong (His own). Some of the guys did not want their beers so I managed to get at least 6 beers to myself.
That much of the course over we went back to VTHGTE. We trooped into the Menasie for dinner, we looked a sight in dirty browns, with Cammo still on. We had one night off, were the whole course went to town. I was dog tired, instead I got a lift with a guy, Martie, home (his parents lived near mine) and we both had a nice meal at home and shower before going back to base.
We then got our postings. I had asked for the following three:
Wit Command, close to home and the most violent place going, with the best chance of seeing action.
Natal Command Also very violent and again best chance of seeing action
Noordelike Medise Komandement Again the chance of doing patrols on the SA/Moz border was an attraction. I was feeling very GV!
Instead I got Noord Wes Medise Komandement! Potch! No-one had heard of this place. It had no reputation at all. We were flummoxed; about 10 guys who got sent there had all asked for JHB except two guys, one was a farmer from Sannieshof and another from Potch itself.
One of the cherished items an Ops Medic has is a Caduceus. A small red badge with a snake with one wing. It indicates a lot more than its military symbol. It is all about knowledge and responsibility. The badges we were issued with were material. But you could buy a Step Out badge from a store in central PTA. A copper badge which when shined look really smart on browns (it must be noted that his was not permitted) But this required a background, preferably the same colour as your beret. Well you could buy a beret as well for another R 20.00, but a much better option was to steal a beret from a JL. So a mass attack was arranged. Basically everybody ran down to the JL Bungalow and started trading blows whilst swiping off their berets!
The day of the parade came. As the JL's course was practicing their pass out parade we could not use the Parade ground, so we had it in the menasie! [Mess] A bit of a let down but it indicated the standing of Ops Medics in the whole set up in SAMS TC.
My parents came through and we had a nice afternoon, we went in PTA and my we bought the Step Out Caduceus. We went home and I sewed on my own Stripes. I was now a Lance Corporal!
The one of two guys standing outside a building is of F Munzer and Brown, two guys I did basics with. This was taken during a break in rehearsals for the Uitpas Paraade. It gives you an idea of the Bungalowas we lived in. I was in school with F Munzer, from Grade 1 to Matric and again in Basics.
This is me with my then girlfriend, taken on the "Parents Day" I have blanked her face out because, well I have moved on as I am sure she has. In the background you will see a large building where PF NCO's stayed. It was a huge block of flats.
Potchefstroom Military Base Hospital
I arrived at PMBH (Potchefstroom Military Base Hospital) on Monday morning following our pass out parade. The base itself is an old one with buildings looking like they come from the 1930's. In fact it used to be the only Hospital in the area and served all the towns population- I met an elderly man whose daughter had been born there.
From the base you can see the Caserne Railway stop (closed) and behind that the ladies residences for PUKKE. (Potchefstroom University.)
It is next to the DTKS were Inligting [Intelligence] had their base. We met our Lt., Dr. Janse-Van Rensburg. He had a doctorate so the SAMS called him up following University. A shame they did not check what his doctorate was in, Speech and Drama, yup he was a real "lovie" type.
The Kmdt, a chubbie man in his 50s who gloried in the nickname "Boepie" [reference to having a beer-gut] welcomed us and asked first off "Wie will weg van die basis bly?" [`Who wants to live off-base?'] He was basically saying that when not on duty we had no cause to be on the base and it was less of a headache if we sought accommodation in town! Well only one guy was from Potch, and he immediately got the treasured "Sleep Out" pass.
The RSM was an elderly guy. In his 60's and looking to retire and collect his pension. I doubt he had any interest. He was directly in charge of us 1 liners. He would berate us over the situation in the bungalow. Although we had no control over the clerks and ward orderlies there and we did not want any. One CF clerk and stripped his motorcycle and was storing the spare parts in a Kas [cupboard] at the back of the bungalow whilst the frame sat outside with grass growing all around. We had "Bandite" [`Bandits' – usually civilian/police prisoners who could be hired to do gardening work] to do base maintenance.
We then sorted out a duty roster of sorts. PMBH fell under North West Medical Command. Covering all of what is now North West Province. We had to cover as far north as Zeerust and the Bots border and the "Border" with Bophuthatswana, as well as offer cover to 10 Art Brigade, Art School, DTKS and the Potch AFB. 4 Guys would be in the "bush" for a month. Effectively 2 in Nietverdiend (Zeerust) and 2 in Nooitgedacht (Lichtenburg) the balance of guys would be split between one guy at Potch AFB , one guy on duty at PMBH, just looking after the Ambulances and driving patients around and any other units requiring medical cover.
Myself and Martie Malan were slated to go to 10 Art Brigade (14 Art Reg) the following day and spend the next week in the bush with them. Oh joy!
Were given a Unimog Ambulance and drew from stores our Ops Bags (a medical bag filled with all sorts of things, it was the responsibility of the Medic concerned to ensure it was properly stocked so we would spend time at the Pharmacy drawing extra drugs and bandages. This thing went everywhere with you, and it was a very useful piece of kit) we then went to the Art base about 10 km out of town. Once there we were seconded to ROB or Regiment Onderstuening Baterie. Guys who drive around diesel trucks, lapies pomps, vehicle spares and food supplies. They also do all important meteorological readings with balloons and stuff. They do not deal with the Guns at all. The week was spent driving around and doing bush phase training (hey had we not just done this) The rest off the Regiment ( G5, MFL, and Mortars) were exercising at the same time, but we never had contact with them. At night they would light up the sky with rockets and Mortars attacking a Target. On the Sunday the Regiment would gather at Blou Kom Bos and attend church. This gave Martie and myself a chance to look at the Big Guns. We were suitably impressed. All the while we were looked after by a Bmbdr Alberts. A Kortdiens [Short term PF] guy from JHB. He took a lot of pride showing off his Regiment.
At the end of the week, we returned to PMBH and were told to pack up for Lohatlha and ABS. Great! All the while the guys in PMBH had been having a jol, off at 17:00 each day they would go into town and live it up at Bourbon Street, or get drunk at the NCO mess (Shamrock).
Martie and I drove to PTA and fell in at the SAMS College. There the JLs were taking the next intake. We met up with about 10 other Ops Medics from our course. All of us were headed to ABS. We then drove to the vehicle park in VTHGTE and were issued with Brand New Mfezis! Ours had about 50km on the clock! They even smelt like new cars! We loaded them up at Sen Med stores in Pta with a lot of medical equipment. We spent the night n the College and next day at 05:00 drove to Lohaltla, in Convoy. In all it took about 12 hours to get there.
Once there we were slotted into a large warehouse for accommodation and spent the time sorting out the vehicles. Cleaning and going over such things as how to change a flat tyre. We had done this in training but it needed to be reinforced. We also did camouflage of vehicles, some thing left out of training.
Then the guy were split up and seconded to different units. It seemed like the whole army was here. In all there were 4 of us from the one school there. Artillery (the same guys we had just been on exercise with) 8SAI, 4SAI, Anti Aircraft, School of Armour as well as support units from Signals, MPs, Engineers. The area was vast. It was like a huge get together.
Martie and I were seconded to 61 Mech, who were still coming down from Walvis. So we got booked into the NCO mess. A luxurious affair with a room to ourselves. And good food!
Once the exercise got under way we were with the HQ co of 61 Mech. There was not much more to it than that. We hung around the bush and slept in an Mfezi. (I even had a duvet, no sleeping bag! And we made sure to stock up from the SAWI on tinned goods and coffee, rat packs can be unappetising!) Each day we would sit and watch the show. We did not take part directly. Anti Aircraft Fire, Ratels Platoon attacks, Bridge laying exercises etc. Until the day of the attack dawned. Then we went off, and approached a small installation made up of discarded equipment, whilst the Infantry attacked. Previously there had been G5 cannon shooting from behind and flying overhead. It was fascinating to see how it all fitted together.
The attack was two pronged and the larger attack happened some way from us to the left, all we saw was dust from there.
Luckily during the attack no one was killed, or even seriously hurt. So we had a quiet time. Once over we drove back to the main base, we had no more use for the 61 Mech so we drove back unescorted, eager to get back for a shower and a beer! We passed just about every unit going through a de-brief, lines and lines of Ratels, Olifants etc and simply powered home!
In all we had been in the bush about 3 weeks. The next morning at 05;00 the medics cleared out again. We had all stolen something, rounds, empty shells etc. We got back to PTA and spent the night in the College, we walked around the SAMSTC harassing new troeps and generally making pains of ourselves with the JLs.
The next day was a Wednesday, we only had to be back in PMBH on Monday so we took a few days leave after handing back the Mfezis. Minus the medical equipment of course. It was all written off, as operational requirements.
Back in PMBH we got marching orders again, Martie and one other were off to Zeerust and I was off to Nooitgedacht with Botes.
Nooitgedacht Base was a converted school approx 50 km west of Lichtenburg, towards Sannieshof. This was the border with Bop. This part of the world is flat mieleivelde [corn fields] and nothing else! It consisted of a Rugby Field (Vehicle Park) VTB Saal [recreational hall] (School Hall), Headmasters Cottage (Officers Quarters) Headmaster office (Ops Room) and classrooms housing about 80- guys from the least paraat regiment in SA, Regiment Boland! They were campers from Paarl, Woestershire and surrounds, some from Cape Town. They were miserable at being posted for two months so far from home when here were NDPs only doing one year! They were doing farm patrols (drive in a buffel to farm, drink coffee, ask farmer if he has seen anything, ask farm labourers same, drive back) in the area. When not on duty they would sit and watch videos in the VTB saal. Life here was so humdrum and routine I volunteered for Guard duty at 04:00 to relieve the boredom! We also threw roadblocks. One day about 100m from the road block a taxi rolled and one died with another 7 injured. At Last I had work! We carted them off to the nearest hospital. Injuries ranged from a broken pelvis, to shock and a few scratches. I also had to cover the local commando regiments. At towns like Coligny the local Commando put on a show for the cadets and took them to the shooting range with 22 rifles. I tagged along and was rewarded with a dinner.
Every day Botes and I would argue about who went into Lichtenburg with the supply truck. Just to alleviate the boredom we would ride into town and hang out, with no money. But only one medic at a time.
Whilst there the Battle of Ventersdorp took place, It was the first time a Nat minister had been so badly heckled and that the white audience had turned on the SAP guarding eh State President. The Army was mobilised from PMB. Elements of 10 Art Brigade and all our colleagues from PMBH. This was the closest to action anyone had seen, and we watched it on TV in the VTB saal at Nooitgedacht.
Apart from that I spent my time making sure the Kak Huise [toilets] and Kombuis [kitchen] were A-Ok and watching videos and watching videos. After 1 month they packed up and headed home and we turned the base over to 14 Art, before travelling to PMBH.
Once back at PMBH we settled into a routine. Either on duty at AFB or at PMBH as duty medic. It suited me fine. Evenings were well spent at Borboun Street.
AFB duty meant sitting with the Fire Brigade guys while we waited for an aircraft to fall out the sky (none did except a civilian home made light airplane, who's wings collapsed about 1m off the ground on its maiden flight, none was hurt!) And occasional standing by as Impalas came in from PTA to bomb the Range.
At the bottom of the base ran a Railway line and at least once a week we would watch the Blue Train go by.
The Fire Fighters would be watching TV from about 07:00 onwards and at 08:00 they would start cleaning the vehicles. Vehicle maintenance was a big thing for these guys. Everyday the fire trucks were washed and polished and inspected. At night these guys would make a big deal about AWOLing as far away as Randburg (White Horse) for a jol. The good thing was the base closed at 15:30, so you would organise a lift back to PMBH and then sleep it off in the bungalow. about an hour earlier than your colleagues who had to work in the Ops Room for another hour.
At night we would break into the Dentist Room to use the phone to call all over the world. I made at least one call to Germany and many more around SA. They wised up to us though and started to lock the phone up! Or we would jol so much in Potch we got sick of it!
Being a duty medic sucked. You were literally a duty driver with an ambulance. Any of the serious cases needed transfer to Kallie De HAAS in Potch you drove them in. Or you did cover at such events as the Hockey Tournament. Or the Bisley Shoot (great I spent a Saturday afternoon watching Bisley shooting, till 15:00 then the rugby kicked off, Currie Cup final . The Major declared an end to the competition right then!)
As the time wound down, we started getting restless and reckless. The army had instituted a policy of saving money. Bases were closing down. And we were ordered to save on fuel so no more taking the ambulance into town to buy Fish & Chips. In this spirit I was ordered to accompany a driver and a patient to PTA (only one car to do two trips, the driver had some paperwork to collect). We got in and the first thing Duffy asked was, "When are you next going home"
"Oh you are lucky, I am only going at the end of the month, how about we stop at my place? It is my step sisters birthday OK?"
I should have said no. I had rank and I was nominally in charge. But what the fuck I was 18 and I was keen to meet his sister !
So we off we went. Now Duffy (the diver) was a character. He was in charge of the bar at the PMBH and also implicated in a break in some months before (he actually let this camper in to steal liquor & money and, made it look like a break in) and he had been investigated for some petrol missing from a vehicle. It was at this point I decided to question Duffy as to where he lived. Rustenburg was the answer. In my mind I calculated a round trip of some 400km.
We picked up the guy at Kallie De Haas. He needed to see a Heart Specialist at 1mil. And he was the son of a Brig! Outside the Hospital we did a 3 point turn, mounting the curb and getting a flat tyre. Great. Right in front of an MP vehicle. He laughed at us as we climbed out and replaced the tyre. This was done in a flash and we were off, as fast as this "Governed" Jetta could go. At 1 mil we kicked our passenger out and drove into town, to collect some paperwork.
Then we set off along the road which goes past Hartebeespoort dam to Rustenburg. We were driving behind a School Bus and a girl in the back window lifted her top and flashed at us. This was turning out Great!
We got to Duffy's house at lunch time. His family were out. We made pasta bolognaise and relaxed with a video (Prince Purple Rain.) His mom returned with the step sister. A real blond platteland meisie. [farm girl] And we went out, to buy ice cream and a big bag of sweets in town. Duffy's step father returned from Sun City were he was working on the new Lost City. We ate dinner (a stew with Kudu meat, a first for me) and relaxed till 21:00. before leaving Duffys mom gave us the bag of sweets for the trip back. Then we mad our way back.
Somewhere along the way we realized what we were doing. Duffy suggested I "adjust" the docket which allowed us to have a military vehicle to read tomorrows date. As for the vehicle having loads of extra kilos and being on the wrong road, well we made a detour to test the engine (hey this was Duffy's idea not mine!)
Whilst I was "Re-Writing" the docket the car went into a roll. Do not ask me how. But the tyre Duffy replaced in a flash at the hospital was buckled under the car. We rolled seven times and landed in a farmers field. No-one was hurt but the car was a mess.
It was about 23:00 and dark. We were so disorientated we did not know where we were going. There was NO traffic on the road. After an hour we flagged down a truck. The driver took Duffy to a nearby farmhouse were he phoned the MP station at PMBH.
The farmer drove Duffy back to me were I sat next to the wreck. He was not happy as many people had crashed through this piece of fence and it cost a fortune to repair!
At 01:00 MPs arrived to pick us up. They were reasonable but with the sceptical look only a seasoned cop can have as they listened to our explanation. They had come accompanied by a Tiffie and a recovery truck. The MP Cpl leaned into the car and noticed the sweets on the floor
"Kan ek een vat?"[May I have one?]
"Ja Seker maar." [Yes, sure.]
So he took a sweet out the bag and we climbed in the back of the MP bakkie. [pick up] They drove us to Kallie De Haas for X-rays and then back to PMBH. At about 05:00 I arrived back at PMBH and slept for an hour before Martie woke me up with a "Waar die vok was jy seun?" [`Where the fuck were you, boy?'] I told the story I had told the MP. Other guys were waiting around and they took in my story. Martie spared me humiliation by not laughing and said "Bull Dust" I told him the truth.
My back was now aching and my ribs hurt (I had pulled some muscle in the crash) Martie took me up to the Mess hall and we ate breakfast. Then he drove me over to the MP station in his private car, told me to relax and just tell the truth.
The same MP was on duty. He grabbed me and held me in front of this little room. The size of the bed inside it. It was the Kas were they locked up minor miscreants whilst they did a few days detention. He shouted something along the lines of "I am going to lock you in there till you tell the truth" standing around were MP's and one prisoner making tea. The prisoner was in an overall with no belt and boots with out laces as he made the tea. He looked forlorn.
OK ok I have come to tell the truth.
I just told the story, as above. How we drove as fast as possible to get there as soon as possible. How we hatched the plan upon leaving PMBH. Then after being grilled for about 4 hours and filling in numerous forms I was told to leave. I walked back to the PMBH, I tried to walk in through a back gate, I was stopped by the Staf in charge of the Vehicle Park. By now the news was on every ones lips. He hauled me into his office and I repeated my story. He took out a DD1 form and wrote it out. What a pratt. I was already subject to investigation by the MP's what the heck was I going to do with this? I walked out his office and continued down to the Ops Room. As I walked past the RSM's office he bellowed at me to come in. He asked me the same questions, I bleated the same answers as he tore a strip off me. Telling me if it was up to him he would tear my rank off and drive me down to the DB personally, but it was out of his hands, and that the Colonel was dealing with it!
I walked out and continued to the Ops Room. The Lt pulled me inside and spoke to me, he was ok, although he had been ripped up by the Kmdt over the whole issue. Then he drilled me to the Kmd'st office. Same again, I explained the story. The Kmdt was his usual self, bemoaning this lack of respect and wasted resources. He explained he had phoned my mom this morning. It was his duty as I had been in an accident. She had started crying on the phone! My father was on his way to collect me as I had leave that afternoon anyway. I asked why this could not have been kept away from my parents. Now I just felt guilty as hell. Before I had not really cared. Another piece of Army kit destroyed. So What. But I also realized I had endangered my life and let my parents down by breaking the law.
The MP's found a Till Receipt in the bag of sweets left in the car which proved we were in Rustenburg that afternoon. And the dodgy signature on the Docket was a give away. It took them several weeks to get a Legal officer down from Pta to hear our case. It was December before were pulled up in front of a major. In the time that elapsed I became something of a notorious gangster around the small community at PMBH. And good old Duffy managed to steal another car, this time with a guy called Groenie from the Vehicle Park. This, together with his rather poor record ensured he got 30 days DB. Groenie got an R 80.00 fine and I got R 60.00 fine. Which I perversely waited till the LAST day of national service to pay.
Till the end of the year that was all that happened. I got drunk on the second last day, and argued with a Lt from MP's who were having a braai at the Potch dam next to us.
We also received a medal! A General Service Medal, when I showed it to my father he looked at the certificate and said here is why you got it. It was signed by Magnus Malan. Who had lost his position as Minster for Defence about 3 months previously. These things must have been lying around a warehouse, so they decided to give them to us.
On our last day we handed our kit in, I was short of a blanket so in time honoured fashion, I walked back to the bungalow, ripped up some roefs bed, and handed in their blanket.
Martie Signed on PF, and resigned 30 days later!
I was just happy to be away, 19 and free.
I hope this account will stay as some sort of insight to a country, which 12 years ago was facing enormous upheaval, and still made it through. If anyone says "We were better off before 1994" I always say "Nooit! [Never!] Pre 1994 we would still be doing 3 months camps each year.
Published: 04 August 2002.
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