IT WAS MY DUTY
Written by Peter Radloff
(Jan 83' till Dec 84)
I would like to dedicate this story to my friends Tinus, Johan and Lodewyk and all the other guys who left us behind during those border days.
My grandfather's brother was involved in the Boer war. Since he grew up in the Orange Free State he considered it his duty to fight for his country. He came back home after being wounded by artillery shrapnel at Abrahams Kraal other side Bloemfontein. My father wanted to join the Air Force to go north, but the war was drawing to an end just as he was finishing with school in 1943.
At school I had been hearing stories about guys having to do military service and going up to South West Africa and the Angolan border. It all sounded quite scary to me. When we had to complete forms for registration I did not register in the year that I turned sixteen. I thought that maybe I could get away without registering. During my matric year my mother brought to my attention that during television news broadcast the announcer had called upon everyone who had not yet registered to do so in order to avoid prosecution. I knew what that meant. If I registered I would be called up to do my 2 years and I didn't look forward to it at all. My older brother had started basics in Pretoria in January 1982 at the Personnel Service Training School Voortrekkerhoogte.
During my matric year I had applied for a job at the South African Nuclear Research Facility. I had to be in Pretoria for the final interview and aptitude tests. Since I had neither a car nor a license to drive, my mother took me to Pretoria for the few days that I needed to be there. We went to pick my brother up to take him out for the night. It was the first time that I got to see Voortrekkerhoogte military training camp. I was amazed; it was like a suburb of Pretoria. The first building that caught my eye was 1 Military Hospital, right next to the Yskor head office. After spending the night in the city we stopped at SADFI/SAWI on the corner.
I wrote my last matric exam on the 22nd of November 1982. Two days later a very good school friend and I decided to take a break and go down to Durban for 10 days. We just wanted to relax and spend some time on the beach. We took the train to Durban and stayed at an apartment building for R5,00 per day. We spent our days going down to the beach, watching movies and just strolling around. After a week I decided to phone home and let my parents know that I was still all right and when they could expect me to get back home. My mother said to me "guess what, your army papers have arrived." That dreaded manila envelope with the words OFFICIAL/AMPTELIK written on it.
When I got home I had to open up that envelope and look at all the papers inside. There was a call-up instruction, a one-way train ticket and a small booklet with information one needs to know before reporting, with frequently asked questions and answers for all. It also included a list of things I needed to take with me. There were things like a steam iron, two-metre chain and four locks. I had to have One-Step floor polish and stuff like windowleen. I couldn't understand what all this was for at the time. In the book it specifically stated that I could not take any civilian clothes with me except for those that I had on me. I had to get myself a bank account with a bank card. This would be the first for me! I was being sent to a military base in Kimberley. I would be going to 1 Maintenance Unit Diskobolos. Some of the items I needed couldn't be found in my hometown so my mother took me to Bloemfontein where I would meet the train.
I said my final goodbyes to mom and dad and my sister who was at school in Bloemfontein. My mother's sister agreed to take me down to the station to meet the troop train which was due to arrive at about one o'clock that afternoon of the 8th of January 1983. At the station there were lots of other young guys like myself standing around in little family groups. Some guys were saying goodbye to their girlfriends or sisters. I was quite nervous; not knowing what was going to happen next. The moment I had been dreading for the past two and half years had finally arrived and there would be no turning back now. I was on my way to the army. My force number was 82597048 BG.
When the troop-train pulled into the station a bunch of army guys jumped out of the train and started yelling instructions at us to get on the train and do it quickly. I just had to go and get in at the first coach in front of me. All I had with me was a small sport bag with the things in it that they said I would need with some papers I would have to have with me. We filed into the compartments as quickly as we could. We would be six to a compartment. These were 2nd class coaches. Luckily the trip wouldn't be very long. My brother gave me some advice. "Just shut your mouth and do what they tell you to, and never volunteer for anything." Some of the guys in the compartment with me were defiant. The corporal explained to them that they would settle the matter once we got to the military base. A fight almost broke out between the corporal and this one guy because he didn't want to keep his window closed at all times. The trip to Kimberley only took about 3 hours. We were all gathered together and escorted outside the station and had to get into these big army trucks called Samil 50's.
The ride to the military base was a rough one. It felt as though the drivers were deliberately driving across the sidewalks and curbstones to make the truck bounce around. I had to hold onto my kitbag to prevent it from getting lost. The military base was way out on the south west side of town, the other side of the railway yards and fuel stations. Upon our arrival at the camp we were ordered to line up in formation and prepare for our first army kit issue. The corporals marched us down to the quartermaster's store. I was amazed to see all the things we were going to be issued with. We had to strip off all our clothes, down to underpants of course. We stood there in a long queue and would get different items at the counters. We got everything from overalls with web belts and water bottles to underpants and socks. Then we even got things like soap boxes and steel mirrors. We had to leave our civilian kitbags lying outside. The instructor told us we would be able to pick them up again later on. We were rushed through from one bay to the next getting all this kit stuffed into metal trunks. They gave us canvas webbing and ammo pouches, even dixies and a "pikstel". I had an overall with boots on and a plastic helmet they called a `doibie'. It was the inner part of our steel helmets. With my web belt on and the water bottle attached and positioned at the small of my back. Just after sunset we were given light refreshments just outside the quartermaster's store. By that time I was quite hungry, I had just never thought about it. We had to put our trunks on the back of a Samil 100 and the corporals marched us back to the assembly hall across the road from the PT gym. It was time to do administration. They had put out long rows of desks and chairs for us. We sat there filling in forms. There was a form which served as notice to our parents that we had arrived safely. There was a `last will and testament' which was short and concise. The Officer Commanding came into the hall to officially welcome us to the unit and wish us good luck with the training. He made us feel welcome, but I knew it sounded too good to be true.
It was close to 2 o'clock the next morning when we were finally assigned to bungalows. Our corporal was ready to welcome us into his domain, his bungalow! We were told to get to bed, to settle down and shut up. The next morning we were standing outside in formation making new discoveries. We found out what roll-call was. The next step was breakfast. The entire unit was standing in long queues in front of the mess hall. The first couple of days weren't too bad for us. The instructors were rushing us through breakfast as fast as they could. They would be yelling at us "swallow now and chew later". The food was disgusting.
We were loaded up in these Samil's again and taken down to Danie Theron Training School sickbay for medical check-ups. Once again we had to strip down to our underpants and stand there in long queues waiting for the different doctors to examine us. Each doctor looked at something else to speed up the process. Right at the end, at the last room after the doctor check my spine and back this medical orderly grabbed my left hand and wrote on it with a big marker. He wrote G1K1 on my hand. I had no idea what that meant but I would soon find out. As we were getting out of the medical examinations, the corporal had us climb up into those Samil's and go back to the base for a haircut. Some of the guys who I had just started getting to know I could no longer recognize. I had to get used to everyone from the beginning again.
It was the platoon corporal's duty to teach us everything we had to know about being a soldier. The first couple of weeks were the worst. Some of the guys didn't know a thing about the military. We soon developed a certain routine, and that I could get used to. Morning inspection was at five o'clock and breakfast at six. By seven we would be on the parade ground until somewhere close to ten in the morning. After that we would sit under a tree and listen to the instructor lecturing to us about bush and field craft, compass and map reading, radio procedures and weapon specifications. Every day, after lunch, there was more lectures until two o'clock after which a PT session would keep us busy until five or six o'clock. Supper would be swallowed down as fast as the instructors could get us to force it down our throats. Once that was done, we would retire to our bungalows to begin cleaning up and preparing for the next morning's inspection. Inspection at five would be any corporals opening highlight of the day. They seemed to take great pleasure in finding something wrong with the inspection. At some point each offender would rack up points against him which would have to be worked off at a later date. This matter was usually settled during afternoon PT sessions.
Late that afternoon my overall looked terrible; it was covered in dust and sweat all over. My web-belt had white marks on it and my boots looked as if they were permanently damaged. It would take hours to get my clothes clean again because all 300 of us had the same problem. My Overall and underwear I could chain to the laundry-line but my web-belt and socks I had to lay out under my bed and let them dry like that. At about nine at night our bungalow leader would split us up into groups with each group assigned to clean a specific part of the bungalow. By midnight the bungalow would be clean and each guy could start preparing his personal things. The bed had to be square. First put a folded blanket under the mattress and then I would "Dixie" it, or use One-Step to make it stay in shape giving it a perfectly square form. In the beginning it took some getting used to; all the things we had to clean. I was amazed! Every single thing had to shine. The bungalow floor, walls, and outside all had to shine. It was one of those things that just had to be done.
By early February we were issued with rifles. There was an assortment of elderly FN's with wood butts and older versions of R1's we could use. From that day on we had one more piece of equipment that had to be taken care of, cleaned and carried around. Our early morning parade ground work would include all the gun-drills required for a host of different parades.
On Wednesday mornings we would be lucky because instead of having bush-classes from 10 till 1 there would be a chaplain's period which took up most of the morning. This was an opportunity for each denomination to meet with their respective church ministers. My group only consisted of about 10 guys. The Anglican minister seemed to be very understanding. He would allow us to lie down on the benches and sleep for the time that we were supposed to be under his supervision. He always said he knew how we felt and besides we wouldn't be concentrating on what he was saying. Chaplain's period always ended with someone's whistle beckoning us to draw near for the corporals to take hold of us again. Luckily Wednesdays were also the day on which sport was practiced. After lunch all companies would assemble on the big parade ground and each member could get special sport-pass for the afternoon. The Officer Commanding was very specific about the fact that only members who had done exceptionally well in their field of sport at school were allowed to attend sport parade. The rest of us would be attending an extra long session of PT for the rest of the afternoon. Since it was mid-summer, one of the officially recognized sports was swimming. On the first Wednesday about 30 guys decided they would practice swimming for sport parades. Needless to say a PTI instructor was going to make quite sure that only those who really wanted to swim would be back the next Wednesday. He had those guys treading water forever, then out and in and out again. They swam so much that many of the guys had to be pulled out of the water just before they reached a state of unconsciousness. Those of us who did not partake in sport went out to the open field other side the small parade ground to do PT. We would do standard text book PT for an hour then run a 2,4 and then do buddy PT for the rest of the afternoon just to pass the time. Our squad seemed to grow as the weeks passed. Whenever a guy violated his sport parade privilege he'd be in with us for the rest of his days at One Maintenance Unit.
Of all the troops that started basic training with me I did not know one single person at the start. We got to know one another as time passed. Some of the guys were easy to get along with and others I knew I would never understand while some of them one would simply try to ignore. Unfortunately for the purpose of our training we were compelled to work together and live together 24 hours a day. Everything we did was focused on teamwork.
Saturday afternoons were regarded as catch-up time. During such times we could wash clothes, clean the bungalow extra well and spend some time boning boots. It also provided us the opportunity to write letters and make phone calls just to catch up with the family again. We used to hang out at the swimming pool for a while and buy hot dogs with fruit juice that they sold there. It beat the mess food by far and it was a pleasant change! I liked Sundays most because we got to go to church which was outside the unit. About 6 of us used to go to the Anglican Cathedral for the morning service. The duty driver would take us to town in the duty vehicle. It was a black Chevy Constantia. We had to dress up in "browns" and wear berets instead of those ugly doibies we wore every day. When the church service was over, one of us would run across the street to the Holiday Inn to phone the duty officer from there and arrange a pick-up.>
At least twice a month I would have to perform guard duty. Something else we got into once trained to perform it. It had its advantages as well as disadvantages. The good side was that there would be no morning inspection, but the down side was the fact that there wasn't much sleep to be had during the night while on guard duty. We would be on duty for one hour and off for two hours from six in the evening until eight o'clock the next morning. There would be one shift before midnight and one after midnight. I always exchanged the beat with any guys that were destined to go down to the armoury. There was a story that some guys had died in a fire many years before and they were still haunting the place. It was the furthest point in the military base and way out of the way of everything else. It only happened once that I had to stand guard at the main gate. That was something quite different especially over the weekend. There was no time for sitting around relaxing. There would be two of us there together. One guard would challenge a vehicle while the other approached to check identity and inspect the vehicles, coming in and going out. The stand down was tiring because we had to stand at ease with rifles at sides looking like statues. One Saturday afternoon when I was at the gate I refused entry to a woman dressed in civilian clothes who claimed she was an army officer's wife. Unfortunately she did not have any identification with her and it ended where she got out and identified herself to the officer on duty who in turn instructed us to let her into the unit. One weekend I was put on guard duty at a fuel depot. It was a Sunday which made it that much worse. I was quite sure that the depot had no longer been in use for quite a number of years, but I would not even dare question that. The hardest part about guard duty was trying to stay awake. Even though we were off-duty for 2 hours at a time when the next shift woke me up again it was a mission to get going again.
The summer temperatures around Kimberley were very high. Whenever the temperature exceeded 36 degrees Celsius we were ordered to go and rest in the bungalows. I think that only happened 2 or 3 times. I was quite sure the instructors didn't want it to interfere with our training schedule. The theory classes would usually be finished by 3 o'clock in the afternoon. We would put down our notebooks and get dressed into PT clothes for a 2.4 and some heavy PT until suppertime. The running shoes that the army issued us with were not at all good. They were uncomfortable to run in and generally didn't get used for very often after basic training. Sometimes we would go out to PT sessions in "combat" gear. We would start with a 2.4 and then do lots of rifle PT afterwards. Our platoon corporal seemed to enjoy rifle PT the most. He could make us go on with it for ages. Sometimes our corporal resorted to buddy PT. I'm about 2 metres tall and it was quite difficult trying to select a same-size buddy who would not collapse while sharing the pain. We were shoulder carrying each other across rough terrain and through a deep trench. I was carrying my buddy across this trench when I fell and my knee knocked my face and caused serious nosebleed. There was blood everywhere. I had it on my clothes, on my buddy's clothes and all over the place. The corporal didn't see the need for us to stop for small things like that. We just had to keep on going. I knew that it would be so much more work to clean those overalls that night.
One morning after parade and drill exercise we were marched down to the wing HQ to receive instructions to prepare to go out to the shooting range. The whole company was taken out in Samil 50's. Our first task for the day would be to set up the targets which were stored in a little shack to the side of the butt stop. Everything involved a certain degree of vocal harassment from the platoon sergeants and corporals. Each platoon had a different task at the range. While one platoon was operating the targets, one platoon was on the firing line, and one platoon would be sitting back a few hundred metres on stand-by. That was the boring part of the day. We had to just sit out there in the hot sun. It was getting late and I was hungry already when we could see two Samil's arriving. A lunch break was declared and it would be time to get something to eat. By the time the hot boxes were unloaded and setup for feeding at the command tent, we were lined up in a long queue again. Everything in the army started off with a queue of some kind, or that was how it felt. We used our dixies and fire buckets to eat from in the bush, knowing that it would just be another piece of equipment that had to be cleaned for the next inspection. Somebody had obviously forgotten his rifle at the firing line because we could see a troop running up and down the butt stop while a corporal was getting quite a thrill out of it. I eventually got to the hot boxes and this guy dumps spoonfuls of some kind of stew and rice into my dixie. It was the kind of food that looks as though it might leave me with some serious diarrhoea. There was no time to consider the cholesterol or vitamins levels in the stuff might have in. I just needed something to keep me going. At least I wouldn't be getting fat eating this stuff. It would be burnt away before the next morning.
We engaged the targets from 100m, then 200m and 300 metres. All scores were recorded and the instructors told us that if our scores were good enough we would be awarded a distinguishing insignia to wear on our uniform. Quite a few guys had their buddy's make holes in the target with a bic pen while they just missed the target. A bic pen made the same size hole as a R1 bullet. I knew about the scam. After shooting practice we had to pack everything away again, pick up all the shells and make sure they were handed back to the corporal in charge of the ammo. Our company would form up and declare that we had no sharp point ammunition shells or any part thereof on us. Once that was done the sergeant major would inspect the firing lines and then, instead of just letting us sit there and wait for the Samil's to arrive, the corporals would set to work keeping us busy by chasing us back and forth from the 500 metre mark to the butt stop and back.
After getting back to the unit we had supper and the guard section would be selected and taken away for duty. The added tasks for morning inspection were to clean rifles and eating utensils. Same routine, bed at one and up again at three to carry on working on our inspection.
The next Tuesday afternoon we were all assembled at the training wing HQ when the Company Sergeant Major (CSM) told us we would be going on pass that weekend. The going out dress would be Dress 9. That was browns with beret. We didn't have sable belts or shoulder flashes then. I couldn't wait for Friday to arrive. The company admin clerks made arrangements for those of us who would like to fly home or travel by train. I decided it would be quite nice to fly. It would be the first time I got to take a trip in an aeroplane. Some of the guys used the "Ride Safe" method to get home. In those days the Southern Cross Fund personnel were organizing pick up and drop off's for National Servicemen. Some of the "Ride Safe" signs can still be seen along the national highways. A weekend pass would be from nine o'clock on Friday morning until seven o'clock Sunday evening. The next day our names were on paper and my plane ticket would cost R25. The company was formed up again and the staff sergeant told us to get out of his sight in the count of 3. We scattered as fast as we could. I ran for the first corner just to get away. I didn't want to be called back again.
The next day was devoted to the armoury again. We spent most of the day handing in our rifles. As always they would be working of an alphabetical list. We would sit around talking while the sergeant in charge would shout out your name to draw near and hand your rifle in. The serial numbers were always being double-checked. We all had to sit there waiting until the last guy was done before we could go to the bungalows.
That Thursday seemed to go by in a flash while we were kept busy all day long. On Friday mornings the Officer Commanding would take inspection himself. This was always the big one. Our methods and techniques for preparing for inspection had been honed by the end of the fifth week. Most of us would sleep on the floor after getting the bed ready for inspection. The lockers had to look identical. I had all my shirts neatly ironed and hanging separately. Every sock squarely packed for Friday inspection. The previous Friday the Cmdt. had broken a whole lot of windows in the bungalow because they didn't look good. That was a big `no' for the Company Sergeant Major. He took it as a slap in the face and it would be passed down to us after all. We spent the entire day out in the bush leopard-crawling and doing fire force missions and buddy PT.
Waking up at 3 in the morning was the general rule now and it was considered normal. There would be no time to just sit around this morning. We worked as swiftly as possible to get everything done for the corporal's preliminary inspection. I was in Maintenance Company Bravo platoon. Our bungalow leader would be standing outside at the front door waiting for the corporal to arrive. Sound emanating from Alpha bungalow suggested that inspection was in progress. I could see the guys coming to attention and the corporal doing his duty inspecting every guy's place. Once outside again we knew it would be our turn next. The bungalow leader would follow the corporal taking note of things that were not correct. Everything had to be exactly the same. Even the smallest detail was scrutinized. The padlocks on our lockers had to be facing the same way. If your name appeared in the little book it would be noted that you owe the corporal and would work it off at a later date. The inspection was over in a matter of minutes and there were always a few things that had to re-done. At least there would be no buckets of sand and water thrown on the floors this morning. No one knew how long it would still take for the Officer Commanding and his entourage to arrive. After what felt like an eternity, our company sergeant Sgt Verkuil came round to check everybody's stuff again. By now it was getting light outside. Sgt Verkuil was standing outside in the street when we could all hear his whistle blowing. He called it his silver dream machine. When it sounded he expected us to move as fast as we could. We had to go to the mess hall for breakfast and then back to the bungalows as quickly as possible. They always rushed us through the process of eating. It was the same old story; Line up in queues. Pick up steel mess tray, get food dumped into it and go'n sit down to eat. Most of the time it was tasteless scramble egg with bacon that looked as though it had been cooked in water, with toast that had been burnt and sitting so long that it had got quite soggy. The coffee was always about half strength. The corporals would be walking up and down yelling at us. Swallow, swallow, get it over with. You guys can chew it later. They could feed about 300 of us in 30 minutes.
By seven o'clock we were back in the bungalow and waiting of the OC to arrive. I had to quickly wipe the dust off my boots so they look really nice and clean again. Within a few minutes everyone had their brushes and clothes stowed away. One last check to make sure everything was just right. On Fridays the bungalow corporal would be standing outside and the leader would be at his bed. The all too familiar sound of Alpha platoon coming to attention served as early warning that inspection was near. Several minutes passed, and then we got the command "Attention!" and it would be our turn to stand there like statues while the Officer Commanding and Regimental Sergeant Major walked around inspecting our bungalow. They soon went outside again and walked over to the next bungalow. We could relax again but only stand at ease. The clock has been ticking and by now it was time to prepare for the weekend pass.
At about nine o'clock we were assembled at the training wing HQ ready to receive our pass books. A Samil 50 took us to the airport which was fairly close. When we got there plane tickets were given to us at the SAA check-in counter. I had very little luggage and didn't need to have my bag checked in. Most of the guys were going further to Johannesburg and Durban. The flight only lasted about 30 minutes. When the plane landed at JBM Hertzog airport, my dad picked me up and took me home. No official arrangements were made for my return trip to Kimberley so I was going to use the "Ride Safe" plan. I had been suffering from Achilles tendon infection quite a lot during the first few weeks of basics. My dad took me to our house doctor. He knew exactly what the problem was and what kind of treatment to administer. Within 3 days I was completely healed again. It was such a relief to be away from the military unit for a while. Time seemed to go by in a flash and before I knew it I was busy packing my bags to go back to Kimberley again. On Sunday afternoon, shortly after lunch my dad took me to Ladybrand. I got off at one of the main intersections where I might be able to get a lift quickly. Sure enough within 10 minutes a car pulled up. A man and his wife who were going to Bloemfontein offered me a lift. There was a revolver lying on the back seat. The woman took it away quickly. They dropped me off on the east side of the city. I started walking and about 10 blocks later a guy gave me a lift to the western outskirts of the city. After standing there for about 20 minutes I got another lift from a guy who was also going back to the military base in Kimberley. Sitting there on my bed in the bungalow again brought about a lot of mixed feelings. There was a lot of nervous tension in anticipation about the next day and what it might have in store for us.
I had enough time to make a phone call home to let my folks know that I had arrived safely. Supper was served in the usual manner at six o'clock. There were no instructors around that day. The only person to check up on us was the duty officer and his 2IC. By seven o'clock we were formed up in front of the training wing HQ ready for roll-call. Some of the guys had made it back just in time before being declared AWOL. There were always those few who didn't make it of course.
There was no time to idly sit by to chat. We had to get started with inspection immediately. My mind seemed to have stayed behind at home. I had to focus on the job at hand. Shortly after we had started organizing things again I heard a commotion outside. There were MP's everywhere. They had come to do a drug search, suspecting that some of the guys might have brought drugs into the unit. We were all told to go'n stand outside and wait. The military police went into our bungalows and searched our kit lockers and civy bags. Besides the fact that it took precious time, sleep time and preparation time they left our bungalow in quite a shocking state. Everything was scattered all over the place. It was standard routine. We only got done by 2 o'clock the next morning. Boots had to be "boned." Beds had to be "dixied" and pillow cases ironed. There was a certain risk sleeping on the floor because the corporals sometimes came to check and make sure we were actually sleeping in our beds.
My sleep was interrupted at 03:30 again. Now I had to concentrate even harder. One thing that never changed was the routine. By five o'clock we were standing ready for inspection then it was roll-call and breakfast and off to the parade ground for two hours. We marched down to the armoury to draw rifles with magazines and cleaning kits. It seemed to take forever to get it done. As always, the guys would be standing around and the names would be read out by the gun tiffie in charge. By lunchtime we were marched to the mess hall and afterwards it was back to the armoury again. On most days we could smell the food we would be getting later on that day. From a distance of about 200 metres we already knew what was being served. It was really bad, especially if it was cabbage. I always got the impression that the kitchen staff didn't have a very big recipe book. I had to stuff the food down as quickly as possible and get outside again. At about three o'clock we were all done at the armoury and we had to go and stash our newly acquired equipment in our lockers. The instructors decided that it would be a good idea to get the weekend civy feeling worked out of us with some extra heavy PT for the afternoon. On the other side of the small parade ground there was an open field with thorn bushes and rocks everywhere. They made us leopard crawl across the field from the trees down to the railway line and back. When we were covered in dust and sweat it was time to shift to "buddy PT," then run and fall and run again. After all this we had to carry these big tar poles around the parade ground. From the left shoulder, then right, then on top of our heads and so on. We weren't allowed to wear watches, so nobody knew how long we would go on for or what the time was. Of course it always felt as though it would go on forever. We would be instructed when to drink water and it felt as though I'd have my tongue stuck to my palate before we could drink anything. Pretty soon we were drenched in sweat and covered with dust. It was hard to recognize my friends they all looked quite bad. Eventually the end would come. We were formed up in three's and run back to our bungalows. We had to sing army songs while jogging along. It was difficult to get words out of my mouth; I was so exhausted and my mouth was so dry. As we got close to the bungalows the corporal would make us do an about turn and go all the way back to the parade ground again. Eventually we got to the bungalows and we could run in, quickly dump the water bottles and wash our hands and then march over to the mess hall for supper. This time we were first at the mess hall. The food was still hot and didn't go down to bad. There would be no time to sit around. We had to get back to the bungalow and start cleaning everything for inspection again. My overall looked terrible and my boots would take a lot of work to restore the boned toes and the shine.
Once again the days and nights would begin to flow together. A break in this monotonous routine would be coming up soon. The following weekend would be the annual Kimberley agricultural show. There would be a military display which we had to go and help set up and stand guard there every day and night. We were into slightly more advanced training now. Things like camouflage techniques, preparing ambushes, and taking POW's along with a host of new weapons and accessories. It was time to go out to the shooting range again. It was only the first time that we didn't know what to expect on the range. This time we at least knew that it wasn't going to be fun and games.
It was a Friday morning just after drill practice that our wing commander Capt Craig told us that the next weekend would be parents' weekend. A chance for everyone's parents to come and see what their boys were doing in the army. I hadn't spoken to my mom and dad for quite some time. On Saturday afternoon I had a chance to phone home and discuss the impending visit with them. As usual there were long queues at the call boxes, but I just had to wait it out to make a call.
Sure enough, by the following weekend it was "parent's inspection", company parades and OC's speeches until lunchtime. After the official ceremony we were granted weekend pass. My parents took me to the Kimberley Diamond Mine museum and infamous big hole. That night we all went and stayed at the Savoy Hotel. It felt wonderful to be out of the military base even if it was just one night. The next morning there was a combined church parade at the unit. At church parades like this there would normally be about 3 preachers from different denominations. There was one for Afrikaans and one for English. We had a rabbi at the service that morning because there were so many Jewish guys in the unit. After the church service we went out to the water park just North of Kimberley. I think it was called Rayton. That afternoon my mom and dad dropped me off at the unit main gate. It was a sad moment, but life goes on.
It was business as usual with roll-call at seven o'clock again, and after that back to the bungalow to prepare for Monday morning. Nobody knew exactly when basic training would be over. We just carried on from one day to the next. The instructors would make sure that the weekend's fun would be driven from us during afternoon PT. It was a ritual to sweat the weekend out of us. By now, we would act almost like puppets. Just get it over to live another day.
Several weeks later it was time to put our skills to the test. We went out to Schmidsdrift for 2 weeks. It was going to be `hell week' times two. We set up a tent town for the instructors and the ammo dump. There was an enclosed area where the "go-carts and lilies" [toilets] were put up. We all had to find suitable shelter and rig our bivvy's under the starts. During the day we did route marches and practiced our camouflage techniques. At nigh time we would lay ambushes for each other with trip flares and thousand foot illuminating rockets, and of course the thunder flashes would always be there too. The instructors were determined to push us to the limit. We would be walking and running all day and night. Sometimes it would be up and down the hills and other times we would go down to the river. We had to wade across with the rifles up high. This daily exercise was extremely exhausting. There was still inspection every morning. The emphasis was on clean-shaven, clean gun and clean boots. Then one morning Sgt Verkuil wasn't satisfied with look of my boots. That cost me a serious oppie there. When the corporal didn't have anything for us to do, we would be running 12 k's just to pass the time. One afternoon we were running across these large rugged rocks, when the guy next to me fell down and broke his leg. It was very bad because I could see the bone sticking out through his pants leg.
One morning the unit chaplain arrived. That was the only way we could tell it was Sunday. We all had to "tree aan" at the HQ tent for a field service. That afternoon it was decided that it was time the troops took a shower. It had been about 10 days since we last had a good clean. The mobile shower was up and running. Each platoon would line up outside the doors standing there in our PT shorts. The shower could accommodate 6 people at a time, so while one group was in there the next group would prepare to enter which meant strip down naked then step into a trough of condies crystal to eliminate athletes foot and then into the shower area. A whistle would sound and the water would be turned on, but only for 30 seconds. This was to wet yourself. When the water was turned off again you could soap and shampoo, for 1 minute. The water would be turned on again for another 30 seconds. The whistle would signal every interval.
Two days later we were on the back of a flat bed Samil 100. Sergeant Verkuil was looking for some braai wood. We just travelled around until he spotted a dead tree. We'd all jump off and proceed to break the tree up into smaller pieces we could load on the back of the truck. On our way back to camp we all heard someone shouting "hold on!" The Samil careered off the road and into the bush. Sergeant Verkuil had apparently seen a Kudu and intended hitting it with the truck regardless of the terrain and the troops with the wood on the back. We were bouncing around on the back, holding on for dear life! After a while he gave up and we turned back towards the road.
The day we finished bush phase we were all rounded up and taken down to the river for a swim. This would be the second time we had a chance to wash ourselves. That night there was a big braai for all of us. We even got 2 beers each. I didn't drink beer so I had quickly found two friends who wanted to relieve me of the unwanted refreshment. The next day was pack up again. Packing up always seemed to go much faster and then it was the long road back to Kimberley. This also signalled the end of basics. We got back to the unit and started getting everything cleaned up. Luckily it was a Saturday which meant we had plenty of time to wash our webbing and clean rifles properly.
The following Wednesday morning we were assembled in front of the training wing HQ again, when the wing sergeant major told us that we would be granted a 7 day pass to go home and relax for a while. This was incredible, a whole week away from the unit. On Tuesday I got on the train and went home. It was a pleasant trip being with a few friends and no corporals to bother us all the time. My father came to fetch me at the station and took me home. I didn't have to get up early or hear anyone screaming orders all the time.
Second Phase Driver Training:
I had been on a seven-day pass from Tuesday until Monday. Even though I had taken the train home I got a lift back to Kimberley with a neighbour's son who was a lieutenant in the unit I was at. He had this little Fiat 140. I've only seen a few of those small cars in my life. There was another guy we picked up along the way and when we were out there in the middle of nowhere the car got a flat tyre. Lt Du Toit pulled over to the side of the road and we all got out and started looking to see what it would take to get this fixed. Unfortunately the spare wheel was also flat. The only alternative was to walk up to the nearest farmhouse and ask for a pump to put some air in that tyre. It took quite a while to walk up to the homestead climbing through a few fences along the way. When 2 of us eventually got up to the house there was nobody home. Not a single person could be found. We decided to "borrow" a hand pump standing in the shed. It was at least an hour before we drove back up to the house to return that pump. At least there was still plenty of time to get to the unit. We got to the unit late on Monday afternoon, just in time for supper and to be at roll-call at 19:00.
On Tuesday morning at 10:00 our company was marched over to the big parade ground. There we discovered that the whole unit was assembled. The Officer Commanding made a short speech indicating the fact that basic training was now officially over and we would be re-mustered into new companies to commence with advanced second phase training. Since the choices were limited I decided to become a driver. The Regimental Sergeant Major explained how and where we had to line up to be re mustered. On the signal we all scattered and formed up into new companies. There were store men, personnel clerks and drivers.
Unfortunately there were too many of us that wanted to become drivers. It looked as though about half the unit was assembled at the drivers company. In the army this kind of problem had a unique solution. The sergeant major simply stated; `You guys make a dash for that water tower at one end of the parade ground and the first 200 to make it back first will become drivers.' This turned out to be an extremely desperate situation. When the whistle blew it was a mad rush to see who would make back first. There were guys tripping one another, someone was pulling at my shoulder to try'n get past me, but I made it back to the assembly line. After a quick man-count those who did not make it were duly informed to make a new choice.
We were marched off to our bungalows to gather up our stuff and move to the new training wing. It must have taken the better part of the rest of that day it get moved into our new bungalows and settled down. Those who had moved out before us had left the place looking terrible.
On Wednesday we started learning all about road signs and road ordinance. By Friday morning we were writing our first exam. There were specific orders given to us. We had to get 100% score for the exam or fail. Our company Staff Sergeant, S/Sgt Jacobs told us that if anybody failed the exam we would all be taken to the gym for some PT to refresh the mind. Well, so it happened. By Friday afternoon three o'clock we were all in the gym having a hard workout. The instructors kept on pushing us until most of us were about ready to collapse, and some guys were throwing up it was so bad. This was going to be a lesson never to be forgotten. It never happened again. There were a few guys who could not keep up. They ended up going to the store mans company. Second Phase turned out to be far more exciting than the stuff we had to learn during basics.
Within two weeks the theory was finished and it was time for us to move onto the practical stuff. At first there were not enough vehicles for all of us to drive around in so we spent most of our time around the transport park just cleaning up and washing the vehicles. After a week of that I was quite sure I'd come on the wrong course because it looked as though there would be nothing else for us to do for a long time. Those guys who already had heavy duty licences were taken out to town and they got their drivers licence pretty quickly. Three weeks after the driving course had started we were informed one afternoon that we had to get our kit packed and ready to leave in the morning. We would be going to Bloemfontein to do practical driver training there. It sounded fun, being able to go to another unit for training.
Very early on the morning of 17 April 1983 we were loaded up into Samil 50's with our kit and all, and we set off for Bloemfontein. Actually we were taken to De Brug, to 7th Division Mobile Unit. Here we were going to learn how to drive a wide variety of military vehicles. This unit seemed to be so different to 1 Maintenance Unit. The bungalows were considerably bigger, but everybody seemed to be in a much calmer state of mind and the mess food was really good.
On the first morning we were at `7Div' as it was referred to, the Officer Commanding welcomed us as a unit into his unit and wished us all success with the training that lay ahead. It always sounded so nice when a Commander would welcome other units, knowing that once he retreated back to his office and the junior ranks took over, it would be back to military hell again. The first week we spent preparing enough vehicles for us all to be kept fairly busy without wasting too much time. There were these big hangers filled with brand new vehicles which had been prepared for long-term storage. They were standing on metal frames to keep them off the ground, with plastic bags tied to the exhaust and air intake. Those bags had water absorbent in them. We got some of those Samil 50's out of the hangers and put the tarpaulins on them. We did maintenance on the trucks and finally washed them.
Staff Jakobs told us that we would skip the Samil 20 because it didn't have an enclosed cab and would be very cold driving around with the wind blowing around. By the time we were ready to start driving the trucks around the unit, we were so anxious to start the adrenalin was flowing. The corporals would load about 50 of us into each truck and we would set off to a pre-determined area of the training ground. Upon our arrival we would all get out and sit in a squad formation on the ground whilst one guy at a time got a chance to go for a drive with the corporal. I made good friends with some of the guys that were with me during this phase. There was Tinus van de Linde and Andre Nel amongst others. We were given little log books which we had to carry all over with us. Each time I did some driving the instructor had to make an entry into the log to show how much driving we had been doing.
We progressed from elementary driving to advanced driving and then we started going into the city. This was done a little differently. There would be five of us sitting in the back while one guy drove the truck. It was quite frightening at first. On my first trip into town, I was sitting in the back of the Samil when all of a sudden the truck was making an emergency stop on a steep decent. Everyone slid to the front of the truck. There was a lot of screaming shouting and swearing going on. The Samil ahead of us had a brake system failure which caused the brakes to lock up and the vehicle left wide black tyre marks on the road surface. There wasn't much we could do about that so we just passed them and carried on with the days driving.
After two weeks we went out for some "night driving". The purpose of this exercise was to familiarize the driver with night conditions and circumstances. We were driving along the highway in a Margidus Duetz Gun Tractor. I think it was a 1973 model. This truck was decidedly older than what we were accustomed to. Eventually it was my turn to get in behind the wheel and show the corporal how good I could drive this thing and also change gears without grating them. He made me start off in first gear and shift all the way up to sixth and then all the way back to second gear. After doing this twice I got out and another guy got in behind the steering wheel. Sitting in the crew compartment was quite a joy-ride. There were no windows on this thing, only canvas covered openings. The compartment was big enough for eight people. We were going along at about 70 km/h, and you could hear the differentials humming away, and the wind howling through the cab when a rear wheel blew-out. It made a deafening sound in the crew cab. We all got quite a fright! We could not see much due to the fact that there were no lights around. It was very dark that night, not even a moon shining.
We did not have a spare wheel or tools on the vehicle, so the corporal radioed to the unit and requested a vehicle to bring us the necessary tools and a spare wheel. This was great fun changing the wheel of our truck alongside the road. It must have taken us at least an hour and a half to finally get everything back on the trucks again and commence driving. By this time we were so late that the instructors decided to call it a night and carry on the next day.
Every Friday morning we would attend the unit's flag hoisting parade in front of the HQ. This was a ceremony that no one was excused from. The entire unit had to attend, no matter what. On this particular morning, the Officer Commanding shared an event with us that I shall never forget. He was extremely disappointed in some of the troops from Kimberley because of what they had done the night before. Two of our troops decided they wanted to AWOL into town one night. The sneaked around the unit looking for a vehicle they could use to drive into town with. After looking around for about an hour or so the only vehicle they could find was a small short wheel base Land Rover standing in front of the HQ. They got into the Landie and went to town. Several hours later they decided to go to the Drive-In with this thing. Unfortunately they did not know how to shut the engine off on a diesel vehicle, so instead they just left it idling while they watched the movie. It was about halfway though the movie when there was some knocking on the driver's side window. The Military Police had been alerted of a stolen military vehicle from De Brug. They found the vehicle in question and the two troops were dumbstruck when they looked at the MP badges these guys were wearing. Unbeknown to them they had accidentally taken the Commanding Officers military vehicle and go'n AWOL with it.
The Officer Commanding was furious about this incident. He informed the whole unit that we were a disgrace and the matter will be dealt with utmost seriousness. I never knew what happened to those two guys. They probably got RTU'd and charged accordingly. There was a certain amount of punishment waiting for us too. For the next two weeks we had to stand guard at this unit. It was mid May and the night temperatures were dropping. It wasn't at all comfortable being out in the cold inside a town just standing there for an hour at a time. Their guard towers were made of concrete two pipes which had been stacked on top of each other. There was a ladder on the inside and at the top there was a platform to stand on and some shelter against rain and or direct sunlight. I found it exceptionally boring standing there watching herds of springbok grazing below.
Before long we were driving around in Bloemfontein with that old gun tractor. It was an ugly old thing but made good drivers out of us. Towards the end of May we packed everything away again and got ready to return to Kimberley. The trip back to 1 Maint Unit was particularly terrible. It was freezing cold on the back of those Samil 50's which didn't even have tarpaulins over them. We sat hunched over and shivering from the cold. My hands were turning blue from the cold. We stopped briefly in some small little town to take a break. It was such a relief to warm up a little, before we continued our journey.
Upon our return to the unit we were greeted by a new contingent of instructors fresh out of JL's. The guys had the entire drill book memorized and they wanted so badly to take it out on us. It was `hell week' all over again. Most of the guys with me were extremely defiant. We even had a new training wing sergeant major who had just returned from the border after being there for several years. He too wanted to show everyone who he was and how though he could be.
We still had daily morning inspection, but once that was over we would all march down to the transport park and hang out there for the day. After spending 4 weeks at De Brug in Bloemfontein it was time for us to do the final driving test in town. Staff Sergeant Jakobs was our licence tester and he took me to town in a M/Duetz. It was nerve-racking and I had to concentrate hard to make sure that I made no mistakes. I'd hate to fail my test and be thrown off course at the last moment. After a 30-minute drive around town, we returned to the unit and Staff Jakobs informed me that I made it. I was thrilled. Now I am an operational driver, without much experience though.
The next morning, after breakfast, we were marched to the unit assembly hall. This happened every once in a while when the OC had something important to tell us. After settling down, the hall was quite and everyone was waiting for the Commander to arrive. We troops could not even so much as squeak or a corporal would be there in a flash to shut us up. The senior NCO's were milling around the main entrance door waiting. Pretty soon one could detect by everyone movement that the OC had arrived. After a quick and brief greeting of jumping up and saluting by the 2IC we all settled down again. The Commanding Officer told us that he would be reading our names from a list which would inform us which unit we would be posted to. First all the married guys would be sent closer to their homes. Next were all the G3's and similar to be posted out. Lastly it was the G1's would be informed. The list was alphabetically as usual and I'm now waiting till I hear R's. All I needed to do was make a note of the unit so that I didn't forget it again. Eventually my name came up along with Sector 20 HQ. I had no idea where that was and would eventually find out. It was only later on when everyone was standing around outside, some excited and some very disappointed did I find other guys who were going to Sec20HQ. I also discovered that it was in South West Africa. I didn't feel any particular emotions about going to the border. If that was where they were going to send me, then that was where I would be going.
The Commanding Officer also told us that we would be getting a weekend pass so that we could go and say goodbye to everyone at home before going to the border. I was looking forward to a break. It had been two months since we went on seven days. Every one of us was looking forward to going home for the weekend. Our pass books were being processed and the guys were talking about what they were going to do once they got home. There was a feeling of joy amongst us. This was going to be a final goodbye before going to a place that none really wanted to be. That Friday morning at seven o'clock we heard the whistle blowing and knew it was time to line up at the HQ. This was just a formality to get pass book and go home. The wing commander informed us that there was heavy unrest in the locations and we would have to be on standby over the weekend. There would be no weekend pass for us anymore. It was mid winter and very cold in Kimberley. The guys had a hard time understanding the command our Captain was giving us. This was devastating; just think about the fact that we would not be going home before being sent to the border. The public telephones were busy. There were long queues of guys waiting to get a chance to phone home. I heard many a guy close to tears while he bid farewell to his girlfriend or grandmother.
Two days later the first guys started clearing out. They were the married guys going to home units and the G3's and higher also going to places where they wouldn't be in harm's way. I knew of one guy who had his medical classification changed to G3 so that he could go home to his girlfriend. By the time it got round to Saturday, there were only a few of us left in the unit. The guys who were destined to stay at 1 Maint Unit transferred over to another company and all the guys who went on JL's were long gone. Those of us who were on stand by that weekend just sat around in the bungalows talking to one another and reminiscing about the fact that we were grateful that basics was now finally at an end and we need never see this place again. There were the odd few guys who swore that if they ever saw their corporal again they beat the shit out of him. I most certainly didn't want to see the unit ever again in my life. (Little did I know that I would visit that unit again in October 1995). I also saw WO2 Verkuil out at Schmidsdrift one day while we were there doing proof shots with a G5. That was in March 1986.
Going to the Border:
On Monday the 14th of June 1983 the company sergeant major told us to gather our stuff and take it back to the QM store to start clearing out and then pack our bags and get ready to leave. We would be going in 2 days by Flossie to Grootfontein. The mood and the conversation all shifted amongst the guys. We were all talking about what we were going to do once we got there and who were all going to the same places. There was always the matter of which unit was superior to the next. I learnt that the waterkoppe, [Beret badge depicting wavy white and blue lines, also referred to as `radiators'] that was us guys, were considered to be at the bottom of that list anyway. I just tried to tell myself that without guys like us, those units would be hauling there own personnel, supplies and mail all over the country and into the most terrible places under terrible conditions.
The next morning we spent quite a lot of time handing back our rifles and some of the kit at the QM stores. After lunch, I was summoned to the unit HQ personnel office. Without questioning an instruction like that I made my way over there. At the personnel office, one of the clerks explained to me that I would be responsible to deliver our personnel files to the unit we were going to. I took receipt, by signature of this cardboard box filled with our personnel files. Once again I did not question the fact that they chose me to courier these confidential documents. All I had to do would be to carry out those instructions.
Very early on the morning of 16 June we were woken up and told to be at the unit hall ready to be taken to the local civilian airport where the aeroplanes would pick us up. By 4 o'clock we were all gathered at the hall and ready to go. The Samil's only arrived there at about 6 o'clock and then it still took about 30 minutes before they were ready to leave. We got to the airport at about 7 o'clock. We could not go to the terminal and wait in the building. We were dropped off at the furthest end of the docking zone. There we sat with duffle bags full of kit and sleeping bags with our grey coats on. It was freezing cold out there on the cement. The wind was blowing out of the South and I was feeling very uncomfortable. We just lay there talking bullshit and eventually some guys started falling asleep.
I was lying on my back with my head resting on my duffle back listening to other guys talking about their last weekend pass when someone said; `Look. Look there they come!' Sure enough, way off in the distance I could see a flicker of light like something shinning in the sky coming in low. As the speckles drew closer one could make out the shape of two Hercules C130's coming in to land. As the first one touched down there was hardly any sound. As the props kicked into reverse thrust and the engines put on full power the noise echoed across the runway and against the buildings in the background. Whoever was still sleeping must have been deaf, because they made the most terrible noise coming in. Within a space of about 500 metres, the planes where taxiing towards us.
As the C130's got closer, we started gathering our gear to board the planes. There were about 350 of us ready to go North. Once the planes were parked, the rear doors were opened and we were instructed to run in single file into the plane from one side making sure everybody's kit was stowed on the palette up front. The pilots didn't even switch the engines off. The planes stood there idling while we boarded as quickly as possible. This was a moment we had been waiting for since 4 that morning and we eventually got onto the planes at about 10 o'clock.
As the last guys got seated and belted down, the flight engineer commenced closing the rear door and preparing for taxiing back to the runway. Since these planes did not have many windows there would be no last look at South Africa as we took off. The Flossie's taxied out to the runway, and each one, without hesitation, accelerated to the maximum and began to rumble down the runway. The noise of those engines was incredibly loud. The take-off was marvellous. I had not been this excited in a very long time. As the plane lifted off the ground and became airborne, reality sank in. The though of going so far to an unfamiliar place became very real. We were so tightly squeezed in the cargo area there would be no way for anyone to move around. With the constant droning of the aircraft engines in the background, I soon began to settle down and calmly wait until we got to the other side.
The flight must have lasted about 4 hours. After being in the air for such a long time, I could hear the pitch of the engines change signalling a change in speed and hence a change in altitude too. Those Flossie's literally dive out of the sky when they go down to land. My stomach felt as though it came up to my mouth as we descended rapidly. Touchdown soon followed and then that familiar sound of the engines performing reverse thrust again. Everybody was awake by now and perfectly aware of the mood. The plane eventually came to a standstill in front of the terminal and the back door opened soon after. What a sight that was! I could see white sand in the background and the heat waves emanating from the ground. It was quite hot when we got out of the plane. We formed up in platoons and were marched off to waiting Samil 50's. A short drive down the road and around the corner we turned off to the left and soon found ourselves at the "Deurgangs Kamp" [Transit Camp.] The camp was supposed to be a short stop over until we got a ride to Rundu.
The Transit Camp was a building built in such a way that it had a single row of rooms laid out in a square with a courtyard about 500 square metres in size. In the centre was Bedford water tanker, the first Bedford I'd ever seen and a Buffel Mk1. All the new things I was getting used to and the new smells too. We signed in at the reception office and were ordered to find our own place to lie down and rest. Supper that night came mainly out of tins and was terrible. The rooms had beds in them with mattresses that had been abused over the years. There were no blankets or sheets to talk about. The bathroom was in a terrible state of disrepair with cold water of course. We soon settled down and found a place to sleep for the night. It was a Thursday that we arrived and the next morning after a breakfast, I need not elaborate on we decided to make a phone call to the unit and find out if anyone knew that we were in Grootfontein and ready to be picked up. There was one guy (Marius Van Rooyen) amongst us who was quite a few years older than the rest. He made the call and did the talking. The message that we got was to just sit tight and someone would be there the next morning to come and pick us up. So there we were with plenty of time at hand and nowhere to go.
It was very boring sitting around the Transit Camp with nothing to do. After going through basics and second phase it was amazing to think that we were out there all on our own with no one to scream at us or give orders of any kind. We just sat round in one room talking about all kinds of things. Marius asked me what I had in the box, and I told him it was our personnel files. He said he wanted to take a look at his. He wanted to know what they had written about him in there. I wasn't going to stop him. If he wanted to open the box, well then he would do so. He carefully removed the twine that held it closed and opened the box. There were 6 files in there, each with our names on them. He started flipping through the pages making comments as he went along. When he saw a copy of our 7-day pass certificate there he came up with a plan. He suggested that we remove the copy and when we got to Rundu, we tell them we hadn't had 7 days yet and then we could go home again. That sounded like an excellent plan and we all agreed to it. We took out those papers and carefully put all the documents back in the box and tied it up carefully.
The next morning Marius phoned Rundu again and there was another message. The unit did not have any drivers available to come and fetch us. We would just have to wait until Sunday morning. By Saturday afternoon, I had had just about enough of the Transit Camp. We were about the only guys left at the camp by Saturday afternoon. All we could do was sit and wait until the next day. We would be left there until the next morning.
I was standing in the kitchen washing my dixies and pikstel when I heard someone shouting orders outside and calling my name. I went outside and there were 2 guys standing next to a Samil 50 calling for us to get on. Our final trip started at about 09:00. There was a lot of stuff on the back of the truck so we just had to get on top of it all and make ourselves comfortable. The road to Rundu was fairly boring, with not much to see and nothing to do. It was just the 6 of us. After about 2 hours the Samil started slowing down. I looked through a hole in the tarpaulin to see why we were slowing down and I could see a control checkpoint up ahead. We had got to the "red line" checkpoint. From this point on only military vehicles were allowed to travel on the public roads without armed escorts. Without having to stop the Samil gained speed again and we were on our way. The last leg of the trip. The landscape was turning to dense indigenous bush and trees standing in white sand. There were PB's "Local Folks" standing along the road with their hands out in a begging gesture. We drove past some roadside buildings that looked as if it was an open-air market of some kind.
What seemed like another hour or so we were slowing down again. There was a sandbagged fortification in the middle of the tar road, and behind the wall were 2 troops with rifles and a 50 machine gun. I though; `Damn! This place is heating up! This is the sort of thing that I'll have to live with for another year and a half.' About 2 kilometres further we turned left and stopped at the unit's main entrance gate.
The roads inside the unit were made of limestone and the reflected sunlight was almost blinding. The Samil went straight down the middle of the unit and made a right turn at the T-junction and then another few hundred metres down the road a curve to the left and we pulled up along side a building that looked like some kind storage building. We made it to the unit in time to join the other guys for lunch. The mess hall was a half wall built of bricks and covered with cement and the upper half was a fine gauze mesh that acted as a fly screen. There were flies everywhere around the mess and kitchen. I was quite hungry so the food tasted pretty good. I was pleasantly surprised to see kitchen staff dishing up and not fellow troops who had been pulled out of the queue to perform this duty. I could also go and help myself to more juice without getting a stare from someone.
After lunch we were escorted back to that out building which was to become our bungalow and it was time to meet the "oumanne" [old guys]. There was; Cpl Kruger, Lodewyk Hulme, Roggies Roggeband, Spencer and Bezuidenhout. Some of the other guys' names have slipped my memory by now. The bungalow wasn't big enough for all of us so we "rowwe" [new guys] would have to sleep outside until something could be arranged. I eventually got to bed by 10 o'clock that night. The `old' guys were too busy telling us how few days they had left over "min dae" and the fact that we were there to serve them as though they were our masters and we were their slaves.
One of the changes I found in the unit was the fact that there was brunch at 10 instead of breakfast and lunch. It took a while to get used to the idea of going to work on an empty stomach. The first day at work was an eye opener. We were marched off down the road, and it was quite a long way to the transport park; way over on the south side of the unit. Over there we met the division sergeant major WO1 C.J. Langenhoven, Staff Sergeant M. Swanepoel and Cpl Steyn. After a brief formal introduction Sergeant Major Langenhoven asked us which of us had matric. Out of the six that had arrived, only 2 had matric. It was decided that Tinus and I would do the office work. Andre Nel was informed that he would be transferred to an out base at Bagani, a little further east into the Caprivi Strip.
One of the corporals then took us down to the main HQ to clear in. There I handed over our personnel files, met all the key admin personnel and was brought before the Regimental Sergeant Major too. Next stop was the QM store and the amoury. Brunch at ten and then back to the transport park. The oumanne told us that over here they had to take malaria pills every week. There was a roll-call book to keep as a register and we had to sign for the pills. Then we had to take the 2 pills and chew then without having a drink of water. I was getting cold shivers down my spine those pills tasted so bad. This was an initiation into our new environment. Work continued until 5 o'clock in the afternoon at which time we were allowed to go back to our bungalow. One of the daily tasks we had to perform was to fetch and deliver all the civilian labourers. The oumanne each took a roof with him to get to know the routes the trucks had to travel. One Samil went West and the other East, each travelling about 30 kilometres out. Then there was a driver for the school bus every morning and after delivering the army personnel's children to the school, all the permanent force members would be brought into the unit to be at work by 07:30.
The daily routine would be quite easy to get used to if this was all we were going to do. On Tuesdays a Flossie would bring the mail for all of Sector 20. Once the base post office had sorted the mail, it was our job to deliver it to the outposts and smaller bases. Another daily task of course was the "rubbish truck." One guy had to drive the truck around the unit and pick up all the trash bins and take the trash out to the dump site outside the base.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The author expects to continue with describing the further events in about 6 months time. This will be announced on Army-Talk and in the `What's New' section of Sentinel Projects.
Published: 12 May 2002.
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